The PA Commonwealth Court recently held that the possession of a medical marijuana card does not permit a driver to refuse to submit to a blood test requested by a police officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the driver was driving under the influence of marijuana.
In this case, Alonzo Pritchett was stopped for operating a vehicle with an inoperable center brake light. Because Pritchett’s car smelled like marijuana and he told the Trooper that he had recently smoked marijuana, combined with the facts that he had bloodshot eyes and failed the administered intoxication tests, the Court found that the Trooper had reasonable grounds to believe that Pritchett was driving under the influence of marijuana.
Pritchett was asked and refused to submit to a blood test and his driver’s license was suspended for one year for the refusal. He filed an appeal of that suspension and the trial court found in his favor, concluding that Pritchett had used marijuana legally. This conclusion was apparently consistent with the related, but separate, criminal case which did not resulted in a conviction for driving under the influence of marijuana.
Nonetheless, PennDOT appealed the trial court’s decision in Pritchett’s license suspension appeal for the alleged refusal. And, the Commonwealth Court ultimately noted that “while the fact that a positive blood test may be explained during the criminal trial by admission of Licensee’s medical marijuana card, that fact does not negate ‘the power of [DOT] to suspend a driver’s license, which is conferred by the [I]mplied [C]onsent [L]aw.’”
In other words, Pritchett “confused the evidence required for a criminal prosecution with the evidence needed to uphold DOT’s suspension of his operating privilege based on a refusal to submit to chemical testing” and his belief that he did not have to submit to a blood test because he was permitted to use medical marijuana was incorrect.
Therefore, even though Pritchett was not convicted of DUI, he nonetheless must serve a one-year suspension of his privilege to operate a motor vehicle for having refused to submit to the blood test requested by the Trooper.