In Louisiana, a person can be convicted of OWI, even if there is no impairing substance present in the body. Strange but true.
The crime of operating a vehicle while intoxicated is the operating of any motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel, or other means of conveyance when… the operator is under the influence of any controlled dangerous substance, including marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols, including synthetic equivalents and derivatives, except for tetrahydrocannabinols in hemp.
What this means is even if a person smoked marijuana a week ago, if a blood or urine test reveals even the inactive metabolite, that would be sufficient evidence to convict.
Arizona, among other states, has faced the same issue. Unlike Louisianians, however, Arizonans no longer risk getting an OWI for driving with an inactive metabolite of marijuana in their blood following a ruling by the state’s high court.
The Arizona Supreme Court announced that it was reaffirming the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case of a man who was prosecuted for driving while impaired after a blood test revealed the presence of marijuana.
Here’s what the court had to say about the case in its 4-1 decision:
“We are not persuaded and reject the State’s argument that [the law] ‘creates a flat ban on the presence of any drug or its metabolite in a person’s body while driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle,’ even when the only metabolite found is not impairing . . .
“Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the ‘metabolite’ reference in [the law] is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment . . . Drivers cannot be convicted of the . . . offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”
The opinion follows a ruling last year by the Arizona Court of Appeals that upheld the zero-tolerance law, which is nearly identical to Louisiana’s scheme. Studies show the inactive metabolite, carboxy-THC, can be detected in the blood of some drivers for a few weeks after their last use.
The law’s strict ban on metabolites meant that unimpaired drivers with any trace of cannabis in their systems – active or not – were technically breaking the state’s OWI laws just by getting behind the wheel. The new ruling ends potential abuse of the law by zealous prosecutors.
Motorists in Arizona caught driving under the influence of marijuana can still be prosecuted for an OWI if a blood test reveals the presence of active THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in the plant. The High Court emphasized in its ruling that any “active” metabolite for any drug, not just marijuana, could still be used by prosecutors as evidence of OWI.
It’s time for Louisiana to follow Arizona’s lead and get rid of a law that allows sober motorists to be convicted of OWI.