Marijuana users can drive legally in the state as long as their driving isn't erratic and they can pass a field sobriety test, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that while it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, Idaho law doesn't list marijuana as a narcotic.
The ruling overturned an impaired driving conviction against Matthew Patzer, 21, who was stopped for a broken tailgate light in 1998 and admitted to police he'd smoked marijuana at a party. The appeals court said Patzer could not automatically be presumed impaired; he wasn't driving erratically and passed two field sobriety tests.
"Given the distinction drawn by the statute, there is no basis to conclude that impairment may be presumed upon admission of use of a non-narcotic drug," the appeals court wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Fica in Idaho said the government may ask the court to review its decision or request that the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case.
Idaho Senate Judiciary Chairman Denton Darrington said he had assumed marijuana was a narcotic under state law, and that the statute might need to be reviewed. But he questioned whether Monday's decision would hold up on appeal.
The circuit's decision also reverses Patzer's illegal weapons convictions.
In his Chevrolet Blazer, police found four illegal homemade grenades, a sawed-off shotgun and a modified rifle with a homemade silencer. But the court said that because of his unlawful arrest, the search of his vehicle was illegal.
By David Kravets © MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed