As marijuana usage becomes increasingly legalized throughout the United States, police officers and law enforcement are noticing a frightening increase in people driving while high. Unlike alcohol, which is much easier to objectively test for, driving while high creates new complications for officials working to keep our roadways safe. The increasing prevalence of both recreational and medical marijuana means this issue will not be going away anytime soon.
Alcohol can be tested onsite, via breathalyzers and other instant-read type devices. Marijuana however, typically necessitates blood or urine tests. Dissimilar from alcohol, marijuana affects people at a much more subjective rate than alcohol. While BAC (Or Blood Alcohol Content) can quickly provide information as to how intoxicated someone is, Marijuana is more significantly affected by factors like bodyweight, tolerance, and potency of the marijuana smoked. Even with advanced testing (which is often expensive, and not yet widely available) the level of impairment of someone who has smoked marijuana is difficult to determine.
For example, there is a generally accepted national standard that if your BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, you are considered impaired to an extent that renders you unsafe to drive a motor vehicle. Since marijuana effects the human body in notably different ways than alcohol, this level of impairment is much more difficult to quantify.
As of this writing, Marijuana is now recreationally legal in 10 different states. These states include Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine. This is in addition to the District of Columbia. New York has also indicated that legalization of marijuana has would be a top priority going into the 2019 year. Beyond recreational usage, over thirty states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.
The national trend clearly is in favor of increasing legalization of marijuana, whether it is for recreational, or medicinal purposes. This will force lawmakers, and law enforcement alike, to adapt and adopt new ways to deal with the inevitability of drivers operating vehicles while affected by marijuana. Policies regarding impairment will have to be in place soon if the government wants to keep pace with this trend.
Marijuana, notwithstanding some of the health benefits it may provide, can have multiple adverse impacts on a user’s reflexes and ability to focus. Both of which are essential to safely operate a motor vehicle. These potential negative effects have caused some states to implement zero tolerance laws that prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle when you have any amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in your system. THC is the component in marijuana that is largely responsible for it’s intoxicating influence. Some states with this law include, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.
Conversely, Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 considers drivers with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood to be “intoxicated.” Despite these policies that are already on the books, this is clearly an evolving area of law. Both legal experts, and users of marijuana, cannot seem to agree on what constitutes intoxication, and how to codify potential intoxication.
This confusion and disagreement can be attributed to a few factors. For one, the testing available for THC is limited, and often imprecise. This is compounded by the fact that THC can stay in a user’s bloodstream for weeks after use. So, for example, someone could use marijuana legally, and a test a month later could reveal that THC was still in their blood or urine. Thus, any analogies to alcohol consumption are flawed at best. For instance, it is hard to compare “shots of liquor” to amount of marijuana smoked, or ingested. Variances in potency and the method of consumption have a tremendous influence on a user’s level of intoxication.
The complications caused by testing procedures provide exacerbate challenges for law enforcement personnel. Often characterized as the most reliable procedure for testing, blood testing is costly, and difficult to do on-scene. Additionally, often seen as an alternative test, hair follicle tests are just as cumbersome. Many private companies are workshopping different THC-breathalyzers, although most are in their very early stages, and are not for widespread, national use.
Some law enforcement agencies are using subjective tests administered by on-scene officers to determine whether or not someone is impaired. These tests, similar to field sobriety tests that enjoy wide use, are also inexact and open law enforcement up to legal challenges. Even so, many highway patrol members are being given training to determine whether or not someone under the influence of marijuana is legally impaired.
Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving are also working to ensure that officers are properly trained and that people are aware of the dangers of driving while under the influence of marijuana. Even with adequate training, these tests are subjective, and are subject to human error.
Despite increased education regarding marijuana use and abuse, the amount of auto accidents that are caused (at least in part) by marijuana use, use of marijuana is on the rise. As mentioned, the national trend is increasingly slanted towards legalization, whether that is for recreational use or medicinal use. Thus, Americans can reasonably expect that drivers impaired by marijuana will become more and more prevalent over time.
If you are involved in an accident where another driver was influenced, or suspected to be influenced, by marijuana or any other drugs, do not hesitate to call the Groth Law Firm. We have experience handling cases involving alcohol, marijuana, prescription pills, and many other drugs. Often these cases require specific expertise to make sure you are adequately compensated for your injuries. Due to increasingly accepting attitudes regarding marijuana, drivers are more likely to take the risk of driving while under the influence of marijuana.
If you, or a family member, was injured by a driver under the influence of marijuana, Groth Law firm is your Wisconsin personal injury law firm. We handle accidents of every size and severity. When you call, you can always expect to reach your attorney. At Groth Law Firm we believe you deserve legal counsel that is skilled, disciplined, and proven.