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Medical Marijuana and Impaired Driving – Problems with Enforcement

As more and more states jump on the bandwagon legalizing marijuana and/or medical marijuana use, legislators are now addressing a new concern, an increase in driving while impaired by marijuana.

While Arizona implements a zero tolerance policy, making any level of marijuana in the blood illegal, Colorado’s law offers more flexibility.

Colorado has recently passed new legislation that places the legal threshold for marijuana at 5 nanograms per milliliter. Under this law, defendants are permitted to present evidence proving that they were not too impaired to drive despite a THC level exceeding the statutory threshold.

While proponents of the law emphasize the importance of this standard when legally prosecuting cases involving marijuana impaired driving, many feel that the threshold is to low.

With the legal limit for alcohol being .08, it logically follows that a similar limit should exist for marijuana. That being said, even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledges that detecting impairment caused by marijuana is not as simple as it is with alcohol. The NHTSA is currently studying the effects that marijuana consumption has on drivers; they are expected to return their results by the end of 2014.

In the meantime, a news station in Washington has conducted an interesting experiment to measure marijuana’s effect on driving.

KIRO 7 News constructed a driving course outfitted with a marijuana-smoking lab, police officials, and driving instructor.

Three volunteers were required to smoke 3/8ths of a gram of marijuana and then instructed to complete a driving course. Accompanying the volunteers, an instructor observed the volunteers’ driving ability and reported whether they were safe enough to be on the road.

In all three cases, drivers were reported as driving fine when their blood level of THC well exceeded Colorado’s legal threshold of 5 nanograms. One participant for example, was reported as driving fine behind the wheel when their blood content was 26 nanograms (that’s 5 times the legal threshold). This being said, as the volunteers’ consumed more and more marijuana they did eventually become too impaired to safely drive on the road.

While there is much research to be done on the subject, it seems evident that the future holds much contention among legislators regarding marijuana’s driving threshold.

http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/how-high-too-high-kiro-7-tests-pot-smoking-drivers/nWLrZ/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/automobiles/redefining-under-the-influence.html?_r=0

 

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