ILLINOIS: Recent stories about a ‘new’ study showing marijuana DUIs have tripled are recycling an old study that proved nothing of the sort. It’s high time we separate fact from fiction in the stoned driving debate.
Nathan Palmer was headed to his job at a Peoria, Illinois Pizza Hut in July 2011 when his car crossed the median and struck a motorcycle, instantly killing its driver. Despite the smell of marijuana, the 33-year-old told police he hadn’t smoked in a week, and that the crash was the result of “losing consciousness.”
In Illinois, which houses some of the tougher DUI laws in the nation, even smoking a joint a week before can implicate you. Authorities found trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana)—enough to send Palmer to prison. But after months in court, the judge dropped charges against Palmer, citing evidence that hypoglycemia—low blood sugar—was the likely cause.
The story captures the disorder that still pervades the stoned driving debate today. Without a “weed breathalyzer” or any tool to measure recent marijuana use, the line between anecdote and fact has been indelibly blurred. Had hypoglycemia not been a factor, Palmer’s case would have come down to whether or not the THC in his system was impairing him at the time. A loaded question with no easy answer.