Ridiculous DUI Laws

Angry and scared with some new-found knowledge of AZ’s “Zero Tolerance Per Se” and “Impaired to the Slightest Degree” laws, I wrote this letter to Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Hello Dr. Nadelmann and Team,

I am sure you do not remember me, but I was an undergrad student of yours at Princeton in 1992.  Your class was one of the best I attended, and I have followed the DPA closely for almost 5 years.

I recently learned about a law in Arizona (where I’ve lived for almost 15 years) that merits re-evaluation.  If a person is found with any metabolite of marijuana in their system while driving, they can be convicted of DUI.  The drug could have been active weeks before.  The law is documented below in Arizona Revised Statute 28-1381:


My nightmare scenario is this: I get rear-ended with my kids in the car.  The officer runs my record, sees I have a ticket for running a red-light (AZ also leads the nation in photo-enforcement cameras), profiles me as a problem driver and orders a blood test due to the accident.  It comes up positive due to pot smoked weeks prior, and now I face felony DUI for being under the influence with minors in the car.

I am opposed to driving under the influence.  But this law is practically carte blanche to turn usage into DUI.  AZ has the toughest DUI laws in the country and a very red\Mormon\family-values population that makes a jury trial a very scary proposition.

I have written my representatives about this law.  But the political climate in AZ is not friendly towards any easing of DUI or marijuana laws.  Unfortunately, most of us only find out about these laws after attending Traffic School due to photo enforcement, and by then we are labeled as criminals in denial.

I hope this unfair and punitive law gets the attention of your organization, and would appreciate any suggestions for raising awareness and opposition to it.

Keep up the good work!

I also wrote to State Senator Chuck Gray and Representatives Kirk Adams and Rich Crandall.

I’ve lived in District 19 for 9 years, and recently attended Traffic Survival School due to a photo-enforcement ticket for running a red light. I learned some great lessons about becoming a better driver and the tremendous harms DUI causes on our roads. I am now more firmly than ever opposed to DUI. But I disagree with ARS 28-1381, sections A-1 and A-3. These clauses make it a criminal DUI if one is impaired to the slightest degree, or one has any metabolite of a restricted substance in one’s system. Again, I am completely opposed to DUI, but these laws are too restrictive to personal freedom and turn sensible law-abiding people into criminals. The notion that a .01 BAC due to one beer during an hour-long dinner, or a vicodin weeks earlier from a dentist appointment could result in a DUI is very unsettling. Responsible consumption and responsible use of prescription drugs is legal and should not put a law-abiding person at risk for the tremendous penalties of DUI comparable to someone with a BAC of .14.

Please continue to support laws that vigorously deter and penalize DUI, but remain sensible about turning ordinary responsible people into criminals.

Didn’t get a response, no surprise. Mesa is a very Mormon city, in a very conservative state. There is inevitable crossover between personal beliefs and legislating morality. On the one hand that is democracy in action, but I still get cranky when Rs (or in other places, Dems) run unopposed since it drives extremist politics and laws that simply go too far.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response from Dr. Nadelmann, in which he described work DPA did opposing a similar law in Ohio.  He forwarded my information to members of the organization in Ohio and New Mexico, as well as representatives for NORML.  Unfortunately, a Senior Policy Analyst from NORML also replied, saying that AZ’s law was among the first and toughest in the nation, and there is little to believe there is a receptive legislative climate for change, citing our state’s regulartory history.  Yeah, I figured that out too.



  1. What is this “drive gently” of which you speak? I truly believe I drive best when I’m somewhat aggressive and therefore fully alert. That doesn’t mean tailgating and swerving in and out of lanes; it means driving with *predictable* assertiveness. While blazing a fatty all the way up SR51 of course! 😛 Oh come on and take a joke, y’all.

  2. Amazing how as cyclists we think a clear, purposeful way of driving is sensible and safer. You just gotta do it in a way that doesn’t stand out as too aggressive, since that’s one of the first things cops profile on.

  3. Has this law been tested in the Arizona Supreme Court yet? “Impaired to the slightest degree” seems like one hell of an ambiguous standard. Have you seen any actual enforcement of this provision in AZ, or do the cops pretty much keep to the more-objective standards in the rest of the statute when it comes to enforcement? I’m also curious as to what kind of guidance/training the police get in order to ascertain that someone is “impaired to the slightest degree”, and that that impairment is the result of a triggering substance (as opposed to an impairment that is the result of any number of other impairing things, such as a migraine, a sunburn, or a full bladder).

  4. People absolutely get busted for this in AZ. Its not as common as “regular” dui because the burden falls on the prosecution to prove impairment which under .05 the law says they must not assume, and as a result often is plead out as reckless driving. I think how often depends on the officer and the situation – there was a case where a muslim woman who never drank got busted cause her PBT came back at .01, which could be from having a nutrigrain bar and blowing into a breathalyzer, but the traffic stop was reported as being “confrontational” so who knows if the cop was busting her balls or had legitimate suspicion? As far as training, police are trained in field sobriety and drug recognition (how much, and by whom likely depends on the their city). Most cops are mostly decent, but if they have any suspicion or are heavy-handed all a cop has to do is ask you to do a breathalyzer (which you lose your license automatic for 1 yr if you turn down) and find out you are over .01 to open the door to all this. Have you ever taken a field sobriety test? I cant even do half of that stuff sober in yoga class. I think it probably passes constitutional muster, but its a giant seeping probable cause that I dont want police to have.

  5. I’ve gotten the same ‘non response’ from the state legislator in our district. Unfortunately at the polls this year the only other choice were two other LDS members !? At least I had the satisfaction of seeing Hendrix not have a second term, although his replacement of Farnsworth and Biggs is hardly an improvement.

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