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Does Medical Marijuana Lead To Impaired Driving?

Eleven states are poised to vote on legalizing either medical or recreational marijuana in 2016. They would join the 24 states that already have a marijuana policy in place. Keeping the roads safe for motorists under these changing circumstances will be a new challenge for law enforcement. The states that have legalized weed have seen a vast increase of weed smokers and consequently an increase in impaired driving.

There were a lot of concerns when the debate about legal recreational use began in Colorado. Anti-legalization groups claimed that legalizing adult use would cause an increase in use by teens and a greater risk of accidents on the road due to stoned drivers. Based on statistical data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and statements from the director of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, there is no significant year-over-year change in Colorado’s teen use numbers — additionally the state’s teen use numbers were high even before recreational cannabis was legalized in late-2012.


Smokers have long maintained that a high driver is preferable to a drunk driver. That theory seemingly affirmed by a 1993 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, which found high drivers are only moderately impaired. “The impairment manifests itself mainly in the ability to maintain a steady lateral position on the road, but its magnitude is not exceptional in comparison with changes produced by many medicinal drugs and alcohol,” the report concluded. In short, marijuana’s “adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small … All subjects were willing and able to finish the driving tests without great difficulty.”

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that fatal crashes involving marijuana impaired drivers more than doubled from 2013 to 2014.  The director of traffic safety advocacy and research at the American Automobile Association, says,”Marijuana use in driving is a growing, contributing factor to fatal crashes.”

Marijuana and alcohol are very different, but are being held to the same standard. We know that it if a person weighing x pounds, drinks x ounces of alcohol they will be impaired for x hours. Blood alcohol levels can be accurately measured, we know what degree of impairment comes with those levels and have assigned levels of tolerance within which it is presumed ‘safe’or ‘unsafe’ to operate a vehicle. None of that exists for marijuana. No research exists to understand what levels of THC are required to be considered impaired. Testing for THC levels is not as effective as testing for BAC levels. Marijuana and alcohol metabolize differently. BAC levels return to zero once you are no longer impaired. THC can stay in your bloodstream for weeks after use, long after you are sober. A person who smokes on Saturday can be tested on Monday and THC can be detected. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety note the current legal limits for marijuana on motorists are arbitrary and unscientific. Because law enforcement agencies are operating under a flawed framework, innocent individuals could potentially be wrongly convicted of impaired driving while genuinely unsafe motorists go free.

Drivers who tested positive for marijuana in Washington went from 49 in 2013 to 106 in 2014. There are instances that drivers did test positive for marijuana but may not have been at fault in those accidents. Previous research has shown that drivers who test positive for marijuana are more likely to be involved in accidents. A Columbia University study found that motorists who either test positive or report driving within three hours of using were more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in car crashes.

Driving impaired under any substance, even if it is legal, is not OK, and that still constitutes impaired driving. Getting behind the wheel after drinking or using any drug in unacceptable. You are taking unnecessary risks with your life and the drivers around you.

If you’ve been injured in an car accident by an impaired driver contact New Iberia car accident attorney Clay Burgess to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about insurance claims for property damage, medical bills or lost wages. We can help you get compensated for your financial losses. Contact us for a free consultation.