Recreational Marijuana in Arizona: Legal Does Not Mean Harmless
THE RELEVANT BASICS
With the passing of Proposition 207 in the November 2020 election, people 21 and older will be able to buy, use, possess and grow marijuana, and medical-marijuana dispensaries can sell the drug to qualified adults.
The proposition also covered a variety of legalization issues, from driving under the influence of cannabis to expunging criminal records for possession.
Once official, adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana with no more than five grams in concentrated form. They may also grow six plants at home and no more than 12 plants at home with more than one adult.
Because Arizona’s Department of Health Services must begin accepting applications for medical dispensaries beginning in January 2021 and issuing licenses to qualified dispensaries within 60 days, the earliest people without medical-marijuana cards can legally buy so-called recreational pot may be March 2021.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MARIJUANA IS STILL ILLEGAL
Proposition 207 states that “driving, flying or boating while impaired to the slightest degree by marijuana remains illegal,” but modifies existing law so that simply testing positive for marijuana metabolites does not mean a driver is impaired.
Currently drivers can be convicted of driving under the influence if they have marijuana metabolites in their system, which can last for weeks after the actual ‘high’ effect has passed.
Because impairment “to the slightest degree” must now be proven under Proposition 207, drivers with pot metabolites in their system are not automatically guilty of driving impaired. Law enforcement officers will now have to show evidence the driver was impaired.
MARIJUANA USE AT WORK CAN STILL BE BARRED
Proposition 207 states that it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace or affect the ability of employers to have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.” That means employers can ban marijuana use on the job and continue to test applicants for pot use.
Consequently, some patients may maintain their medical-marijuana card, even though they will have to pay a fee to the state and the cost of a physician’s recommendation, as medical-marijuana patients do have some workplace protections. An employee with a medical-marijuana card cannot be fired for a positive test, but can be if impaired at work or in possession of marijuana at work.
LEGAL DOES NOT MEAN HARMLESS
Proposition 207 did not make Arizona streets and highways safer. As with alcohol and other substance abuse, including marijuana, nothing good ever comes. Opening the door to make it easier to buy, use, possess and grow marijuana will not be worth the tax revenue the proponents of Proposition 207 promised.
Proposition 207 proclaims one of its purposes is “the efficient use of law enforcement resources,” yet recognizes tax dollars will be needed for “conducting training programs and purchasing equipment for detecting, testing and enforcing laws against driving, flying or boating while impaired.”
Safety should always be the priority. Motor vehicles crashes in Arizona will likely increase as pot users get behind the wheel. As with alcohol and other substances, the drivers’ judgment will be impaired, both in deciding whether and how to drive. Too many, including teenagers and children, may be duped into thinking that “legal” makes it safe.
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS
If you are in a crash involving a driver impaired due to marijuana use, call Kevin Chapman or his team at (480) 833-1113 and we can talk about it.
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