Washington and Colorado have recently voted to legalize marijuana, but the debate surrounding the effects of marijuana on driving will not go away for a long time.
According to ABC News, Colorado’s laws does not change the laws related to driving under the influence. Some police leaders have said the legalization of marijuana without laws regulating driving will lead to more impaired drivers.
In Washington, a blood-test limit for marijuana was set as part of the legislation. Police are in the process of training how to enforce these new driving-under-the-influence laws.
The development is almost certain to result in a legal showdown with so much about marijuana impairment still debated. A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol said they have decades of experience dealing with alcohol, but marijuana presents new challenges. The plan is to arrest anyone who is impaired and let the courts handle the technicalities.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that a third of fatal accidents in 2009 involved a driver testing positive for illegal drugs. In 2007, drivers on a weekend at night were randomly stopped and tested, and approximately 16 percent tested positive for drugs.
Most people agree that smoking and driving is not good, but there is no consensus about what level of THC results in impairment. Washington set a limit of five nanograms per milliliter of blood. That has been described as roughly the same amount of impairment as .08 blood-alcohol content, but not everyone agrees.
Drugged-driving convictions are generally based on observations from police officers that are later confirmed with a blood test. There is generally no way to test impairment on the scene in the way a breathalyzer test is used with drunken driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds that the highest levels of THC are reached while smoking. They continue to drop from that point and should drop below 5 nanograms within three hours.
Some critics of the limit say medical patients could fail a test even if not impaired. A zero-tolerance policy for those younger than 21 could also result in convictions for people who are not impaired.
There is much about this issue that will only be sorted out through years of legal battle and likely follow-up legislation. However, I encourage all drivers to be responsible and wait a few hours before driving after smoking. Do not take the chance of endangering another person’s life needlessly.