As the legal medical uses for medical marijuana has increased, the police in Mesa, Arizona, have seen a spike in the number of Arizona drivers who are being arrested for drug impaired driving due to medical marijuana. Experts agree that Arizona’s new medical marijuana laws may be contributing to the problem.
For the first time, Arizona police report that most impaired driving arrests are not alcohol induced but are drugged induced. According to Mesa Sgt. David Mieke over fifty-two percent of DUI arrests last year were for drug use, not alcohol related.
Even more startling than the number of drug impaired driving arrests last year is the incredible increase from 2002 when drug impaired arrests were approximately 16 percent of the arrest in the holidays. During the same period in 2011, the arrests had spiked to around 56%.
Unfortunately, unlike alcohol induced drunk driving, driving while under the influence of a controlled substance such as medical marijuana may be more difficult to detect, and drivers may realize that even if you are legally allowed to smoke medical marijuana, it is still illegal to operate a motorized vehicle if you have the slightest degree of impairment from nonmedical or medical marijuana or any other illegal or legal drug.
Unfortunately, Arizona police have seen a very complacent attitude from drug users, many who believe that the medical card to use marijuana gives them carte blanche to do whatever they want.
Who are the biggest offenders? Police report drivers arrested for impaired driving from marijuana use runs the gamut of ages from teenagers to drivers well into their seventies. The police also notice that all races, ages, and economic strata are affected. This is especially true for prescription medications which like marijuana use can often impair a driver’s ability to safely operate their motorized vehicle.
What does the future hold for Arizona? Mieke expects the problem in Arizona to get worse not better, especially as the state opens dispensaries later this summer.
But is the use of marijuana as serious as the police claim? According to studies it can be. Studies have shown that drug impaired drivers often have the same potentially dangerous characteristic as other drunk drivers. Additionally, drug testing is generally done through a blood test which can be much more expensive than a breathalyzer test, making it much more difficult to detect the impairment.
Although police have increased their efforts to identify drug impaired drivers with better training and more testing equipment, the cost and time is high for the state.
What is the main lesson about marijuana use and driving? It is dangerous to you and to other drivers, and the state of Arizona is taking the problem very seriously. According to police they have ramped up their efforts to detect impaired driving and drivers should not expect to get away with it.
According to Miecke, “Seventeen hundred drivers went away to jail last year here in Mesa for DUI drugs.” Given the increase in medicinal marijuana usage, we can probably expect those numbers to climb even higher in the years to come and Arizona drivers can expect high DUI penalties in Arizona if they are convicted.
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