5 Things To Know About Driving On Marijuana

WASHINGTON:  The legalization of recreational marijuana in two states — Colorado and Washington — and medical marijuana in more than 20 others has raised concern that there will be more drivers stoned behind the wheel. What’s not clear is whether that will translate into an increase in fatal crashes.

WHAT WE KNOW

While marijuana users can perform simple tasks well while they are high, brain imaging has shown that they have to use more of their brain to do so. Their reaction times are slower, peripheral vision is decreased and multitasking impeded. As a result, when sudden or surprising things occur to complicate those tasks — such as when a pedestrian steps in front of a car — they cannot respond as well. On the other hand, marijuana users tend to be aware they are impaired and try to compensate for it.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

It’s not clear how much marijuana use contributes to crash risk. Some studies have found that marijuana can double crash risk, but others have found virtually no increase.

 

State Troopers Grapple With Lengthy Process To Catch Stoned Drivers

WASHINGTON:  The legalization of marijuana brought some new questions on whether driving under the influence of pot is safe. Washington state courts decided yes but only up to a certain limit.

Marijuana has been legal in Washington for more than a year, but it has not changed how officers treat the drug when it comes to people driving while stoned.

“Just like alcohol has .08 marijuana has five nanograms,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy Todd Miller.

However, breathalyzer tests for marijuana do not exit.

“You can pull people over. They admitted to smoking marijuana 30 minutes before you stop them, you know that they’re high, they look high, but when you standard field sobriety test they passed the test,” recounted Miller.

The Truth About Driving While Stoned

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.

More Pot, Safer Roads: Marijuana Legalization Could Bring Unexpected Benefits

WASHINGTON:  The anti-pot group Project SAM claims drug test data show that marijuana legalization in Washington, approved by voters in that state at the end of 2012, already has made the roads more dangerous. The group notes with alarm that the percentage of people arrested for driving under the influence of a drug (DUID) who tested positive for marijuana rose by a third between 2012 and 2013. [Read more…]

With Support For Marijuana, Concern Over Driving High Grows

COLORADO: The Lodo Wellness Center in Denver has been selling medical marijuana for several years. But since Jan. 1, when marijuana in Colorado officially moved from underground to behind-the-counter, they’ve also been selling legal, recreational pot.

A majority of Americans now say they support full legalization, and the trend is spreading: Legal weed is coming soon to Washington state.

Meanwhile, the public health community is warning of a potential safety problem: more people driving while stoned. But health officials and law enforcement don’t yet have the data or tools to address the concern.

Public Perception

Inside the Lodo Wellness Center, shoppers don’t seem particularly worried about getting behind the wheel with pot in their systems.

“You could smoke about an ounce and still have your motor skills,” says 39-year-old Dante Cox. “When it comes to one shot of alcohol, all that goes out of the window.”