Prop 205 would make marijuana DUIs harder to prosecute

TUCSON – An initiative to legalize marijuana will make it more difficult to prosecute people for impaired driving.

Arizona voters are deciding on Proposition 205 which states, “Driving while impaired by marijuana remains illegal.”

But Pima County’s top prosecutor, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, is concerned about another section of the measure.

“It just provides enormous obstacles for police, for prosecutors and for the public,” she said. “Because what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be putting a lot more impaired drivers out there.”

The initiative also states, “A person may not be penalized by this state for an action taken while under the influence of marijuana or a marijuana product solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana in the person’s body.”

LaWall said other states that have legalized marijuana have a legal limit, and Arizona needs one as well.

“They eliminated that completely in the Arizona statute,” she said. “So there is no measurement of impairment whatsoever.”

DUI attorney James Charnesky said the current legal limit of anything above zero does not make sense either.

“It will make it more difficult for them to convict people of DUI,” he said. “But quite frankly, right now they’re convicting people of DUI who aren’t impaired. So I think it’s appropriate that it makes it more difficult.”

Charnesky said blood-alcohol concentrations are scientifically proven to impair drivers, unlike marijuana limits that are not backed by research.

“It’s lagging behind, but it’s coming along,” Charnesky said. “We are starting to see studies which are starting to indicate what levels people may be impaired by marijuana and at what levels they are not. But is [the research] up to alcohol? It’s not even close.”

DUI cases will become more dependent on the use of Drug Recognition Experts. DREs are police officers trained to identify drug impairment in drivers. The Tucson Police Department has 24 certified DREs. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has 12 DREs. The officers go through a 2-week class and about 200 hours of training.

“No, we don’t have enough officers who are trained DRE officers to be able to be called out on every DUI stop,” LaWall said.

Making a legal limit for marijuana could require another election since the law would be voter-protected.

“I don’t think it would be very difficult to change that law to something reasonable,” Charnesky said, “if in fact we had the science to back it up. The voters will vote for it if it makes sense.”


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