The same day a Mesa police officer and prosecutor joined forces to warn the public about the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana, defense attorney Aaron Black was preparing a case for court.
Last year, Black’s client was driving on a Mesa street when “allegedly, he made a reckless or improper U-turn in front of a motorcycle,” Black said.
“The motorcycle ran into him,” he added.
When Black’s client told an investigating police officer he smoked marijuana the day before, he was cited for driving under the influence.
When the motorcycle rider died, Black’s client was charged with manslaughter.
Recreational use of marijuana for adults in Arizona became legal this year.
This, as Black sees it, accelerated a trend of police officers sniffing out drivers under the influence of marijuana.
If a police officer believes a driver is impaired, the officer can request a field sobriety test. After seeing how the driver walks a straight line, follows hand signals and responds to instructions requiring multi-tasking, the officer can demand a test to see if the driver has ingested potentially impairing substances.
If alcohol is suspected, a portable Breathalyzer can be used to measure blood alcohol content (BAC).
But if the officer suspects the driver has ingested marijuana, there is no fast, portable test; but the officer can demand a blood test.
And that is what exasperates attorneys like Black.
“Science says everyone at .08 (BAC) is impaired,” he said. “But with marijuana, there’s no cutoff for impairment. Studies are showing chronic users of marijuana may show no signs of impairment at all. Whereas a novice user may show more signs of impairment.”