Washington State Patrol Showcases Tools For Identifying Drugged Drivers

WASHINGTON:  Law enforcement officers in Washington are no longer just asking drivers if they’ve been drinking when they’re pulled over, as legalized marijuana in the state adds the question, “Have you smoked anything today?”

The Washington State Patrol on Wednesday brought in local drug recognition experts to explain the process for determining driver impairment during traffic stops for substances other than alcohol, which takes about 45 minutes and typically happens after an arrest has been made.

Bellevue Police Lt. Marcia Harnden said the effects of alcohol and marijuana are not only different, but the effects of marijuana can also differentiate among users based on factors like smoking-versus-ingesting and the potency of marijuana and its products.

“You don’t know if you’re drinking tequila marijuana or light beer marijuana,” she said.

While 5 nanograms per milligram is the limit for marijuana impairment through blood testing, it doesn’t mean a driver under the limit isn’t still impaired. It is also difficult to say how soon following consumption of marijuana a person should get behind the wheel.

Since Marijuana Legalization, Highway Fatalities In Colorado Are At Near-Historic Lows

COLORADO:  Since Colorado voters legalized pot in 2012, prohibition supporters have warned that recreational marijuana will lead to a scourge of “drugged divers” on the state’s roads. They often point out that when the state legalized medical marijuana in 2001, there was a surge in drivers found to have smoked pot. They also point to studies showing that in other states that have legalized pot for medical purposes, we’ve seen an increase in the number of drivers testing positive for the drug who were involved in fatal car accidents. The anti-pot group SAM recently pointed out that even before the first legal pot store opened in Washington state, the number of drivers in that state testing positive for pot jumped by a third.

The problem with these criticisms is that we can test only for the presence of marijuana metabolites, not for inebriation. Metabolites can linger in the body for days after the drug’s effects wear off — sometimes even for weeks. Because we all metabolize drugs differently (and at different times and under different conditions), all that a positive test tells us is that the driver has smoked pot at some point in the past few days or weeks.

It makes sense that loosening restrictions on pot would result in a higher percentage of drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents having smoked the drug at some point over the past few days or weeks. You’d also expect to find that a higher percentage of churchgoers, good Samaritans and soup kitchen volunteers would have pot in their system. You’d expect a similar result among any large sampling of people. This doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana caused or was even a contributing factor to accidents, traffic violations or fatalities.

This isn’t an argument that pot wasn’t a factor in at least some of those accidents, either. But that’s precisely the point. A post-accident test for marijuana metabolites doesn’t tell us much at all about whether pot contributed to the accident.

 

Marijuana's Risk To Drivers Debated

CALIFORNIA: As California advocates ponder a renewed push to legalize marijuana for adults, law enforcement officials and traffic safety experts are warning of a side effect of states allowing the drug for medical or recreational use: the danger caused by people driving while high.

Research is incomplete on how much marijuana it takes to impair driving. But Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said being even a little intoxicated on marijuana is unacceptable.

“Smoking marijuana has a very negative effect on your ability to operate a motor vehicle,” Kerlikowske said. “It’s quite dangerous to you, your passengers and others on the road.”

Marijuana advocates acknowledge that driving under the influence of cannabis is ill-advised. But they argue that law enforcement’s concern is overblown, and point to a 2012 study that concluded the auto accident risk posed by marijuana is on par with antihistamines and penicillin. [Read more…]

Do medical-marijuana laws save lives on the road?

MASSACHUSETTS: As legal marijuana spreads across America, mostly for medical use, anxiety about its side effects is spreading with it: What other changes will it bring? Campaigns against loosening the law tend to focus on its unknown and possibly dangerous repercussions—a surge in pot smoking, perhaps opening the door to increased use of harder drugs and to associated spikes in crime and other societal ills. [Read more…]