Driver not a patient but passenger has valid card
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – Voters passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) in 2010 to allow qualified patients access to medicine that alleviates their medical issues, not so they can smoke out a friend and have him drive erratically.
A proposition to legalize marijuana recreationally narrowly lost in 2016. But even if Arizona – like five other western states – completely legalized cannabis, those who use it would still face arrest if caught driving while inebriated, much in the same way as those caught driving drunk are.
According to a Safford Police report, an officer arrested Tino Garcia, 19, for DUI-drugs after believing he was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana.
The officer was on patrol along U.S. Highway 70 at about 1:51 p.m. when he noticed a westbound red sedan traveling at 67 mph in a 55 mph zone. The officer followed the vehicle as it continued to speed while entering the lower speed limit business area. The officer then activated his emergency lights and the sedan turned off the highway onto Kay Lane and went northbound into the parking lot of DRG Technologies at 300 E. 4th St.
Upon contact, the officer reported smelling a strong odor of marijuana from the vehicle. A female passenger advised that she was a medical marijuana card holder and had about two ounces in her purse. The AMMA allows for the purchase, use, and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
The officer performed a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) eye test and a field sobriety test on the driver (Garcia) and deemed he was under the influence of marijuana. Garcia denied using any marijuana, but the officer believed there was other physical evidence to the contrary, including Garcia’s breath smelling like pot.
Garcia, who also was unable to present a valid Arizona driver’s license, was then taken into custody and placed into the officer’s patrol vehicle.
Upon return to the suspect’s car, the officer asked the passenger if he could search her purse where she had the marijuana and she allegedly allowed him to do so. During the search, the officer noted various marijuana buds scattered throughout the purse and not in the plastic bag with the majority and also discovered nearly $2,500 in cash.
The passenger said the weed must have fallen out of her baggie and that the cash was from her job and she was about to use it to pay some bills. She also allegedly admitted smoking in the car but said she did so while parked in Solomon because she couldn’t smoke in her house. According to the AMMA, patients are not allowed to smoke marijuana at work or in public places. While police are not allowed to arrest a valid cardholder for possession of marijuana, the officer sent his report to the Graham County Attorney’s Office for review of possible charges of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia against the passenger for possibly violating the medical marijuana rules by smoking it in the vehicle. The passenger was released at the scene and was picked up by a family member.
Garcia was taken back to the Safford Police Department, where he refused to voluntarily submit to a blood test. The officer then obtained a warrant for Garcia’s blood, and it was drawn at 3:37 p.m. Garcia was then released to a family member with a possible DUI-drug charge pending lab results of his blood test.