Attorney Joshua Maines and defendant River Stone, 21, of Clearfield are asking the state Supreme Court to consider overturning the state’s marijuana DUI law.
Maines represents Stone, who was arrested for DUI in May of 2019. Maines has filed a petition of “allocatur” asking the state Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
When Stone was arrested he had a medical marijuana card. But when the state changed the law several years ago allowing for medical marijuana use, it did not change the DUI laws, and marijuana continues to be classified as a Schedule I substance, which are substances that have no known medical use.
On this basis, Stone was charged by the state police with DUI-3rd offense and Clearfield County District Attorney Ryan Sayers was bringing the cases to trial.
Because marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance under state and federal law, Sayers said marijuana has strict liability and if any amount of marijuana is found in a defendant’s bloodstream, the defendant would be guilty of DUI if they drive a vehicle.
This is in contrast to Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances like prescription medications where the commonwealth would have to prove the driver was impaired by the controlled substance for the driver to be DUI.
On July 24, on the day of the trial, President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman ruled that the jury would be given an instruction stating that marijuana is not a Schedule I controlled substance and to convict Stone the commonwealth must prove the marijuana in Stone’s bloodstream came from non-medical marijuana.
Sayers appealed the case and last month, the state Superior Court ruled in Sayers’ favor and Maines is now seeking relief from the state Supreme Court.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Maines argues that the Superior Court was incorrect in its ruling because the Medical Marijuana Act carves out a “functional exception” to the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule 1 delineation of marijuana and this functional exception exempts medical marijuana from prosecution as a Schedule 1 substance.
Maines argued that in its ruling Superior Court abused its discretion and reached an “unreasonable and absurd result.”
Maines said those using medical marijuana would have it present in their system whether or not they were impaired. Maines argued that law abiding medical marijuana patients effectively have had their driving privileges “swept away” by the Superior Court’s ruling.
“Their (Superior Court’s) ruling denies hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania the privilege of driving solely for their legal use of medical marijuana under the MMA,” Maines wrote.
The case is already having an impact on another DUI case in the county. Austin Rubly, 21, of Clearfield was arrested for DUI on July 5, 2019 and on March 5, 2021 he was arrested again for DUI-2nd offense.
Jury selection for the second case was scheduled for Thursday, but on Tuesday Rubly’s attorney Joe Ryan asked Ammerman for a continuance pending the result of Stone’s appeal.
The jury trial was for the DUI 2nd offense case. Defendants charged with 1st offense DUI are entitled to a bench trial but are not entitled to have a jury trial.
Ryan argued that if the Supreme Court rules in Stone’s favor, Rubly would also be not guilty of these charges and going to trial would be a waste of the court’s time.
Assistant District Attorney Steven Johnston argued that as it stands now, the DUI is a good law until it is found not to be, and the court should proceed as scheduled.
Ammerman said it could take a year or longer before the Supreme Court resolves the Stone appeal. But he also said a month from now the the state Supreme Court could refuse to hear Stone’s appeal and the case could be ready for Jury Selection in October. Ammerman asked Johnston if delaying the trial would prejudice the commonwealth’s case against Rubly.
Johnston said he doesn’t believe delaying this case would prejudice the commonwealth’s case, but he said he is concerned that if a continuance is granted, it would set a precedence in other cases where a delay would prejudice the commonwealth.
Ammerman said he doesn’t believe this would happen and said he would consider each on a case by case basis. He agreed to continue Rubly’s case pending action by the state Supreme Court on Stone’s appeal.