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Marijuana DUI Victory for Patient in Michigan

by | May 27, 2013

A medical marijuana patient in Michigan claimed victory in the state’s Supreme Court, which recently ruled that the presence alone of THC in a person’s bloodstream does not automatically equal impairment under the law.

Our D.C. DUI lawyers know that this ruling was an important one for marijuana patients everywhere, even though it technically applies only to those in Michigan state.

There, the state’s vehicle code has a strict, zero-tolerance policy when it comes to driving after consuming marijuana. MCL 257.625(8) holds that anyone who is found to have any amount of a controlled substance in their bloodstream may be considered impaired. Marijuana is still a Schedule I substance under federal law, despite the fact that it is used as medicine in 18 states and the District of Colombia.

This is an arbitrary law that has no real basis in the science of intoxication because, as we explained in a recent D.C. marijuana DUI lawyer blog, marijuana remains in one’s system for weeks, sometimes even as long as a month. But obviously, it defies common sense that a person who consumed marijuana two or three weeks ago would today still be intoxicated from that consumption.

While the Michigan Supreme Court decision in People v. Koon didn’t strike down this policy entirely, it did exempt medical marijuana patients from arrest, prosecution and penalties solely on the basis of having THC in their system. The court ruled that such practice would run counter to the state’s medical marijuana law, which permits consumption of the drug for certain pre-approved medical conditions.

That’s not to say a medical marijuana patient could never be arrested or prosecuted for a marijuana DUI in Michigan. But what this ruling does is place the burden of proof on the prosecutors. Rather than forcing a medical marijuana patient to prove why they weren’t intoxicated, prosecutors will have to show why they were intoxicated. So other elements they could present as evidence might include outcomes of field sobriety tests, observations regarding a person’s ability to walk and talk and whether a person smelled of the drug.

In the case before the court, the defendant had been pulled over by an officer for speeding. Immediately upon being stopped, he informed the officer that he had consumed marijuana about six hours earlier and that he was legally entitled to do so because he had a valid medical marijuana prescription. The officer tested him for THC, and unsurprisingly, the test came back positive and the driver was arrested for DUI.

In the future, that will no longer be enough to prove a marijuana DUI case.

The court conceded that the state’s medical marijuana law was “an imperfect statute,” which has needed the high court’s intervention on multiple occasions. The court advised that in the future, as the legislature contemplates any amendments to the law, that such conflicts be taken into consideration.

D.C. does not have a specific threshold to prove marijuana DUI – yet. Many states, including most recently Colorado, have introduced legal THC thresholds, similar to the 0.08 blood alcohol level used in alcohol DUI cases. It may be a matter of time before our lawmakers introduce a similar measure.

In the meantime, marijuana DUI cases continue to be more complicated than simple alcohol DUI cases. Fighting one of these charges will require an experienced defense lawyer.

If you are facing marijuana DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.