Although there are six states which have legalized marijuana use and have tests to determine whether a driver is impaired by the drug, a recent study commissioned by AAA’s safety foundation suggests that there may be little scientific evidence to support that these tests can clearly identify impaired drivers.
Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have outlined legal limits for testing for marijuana intoxication, and other states who are planning to legalize pot use may also develop similar testing strategies in the future. Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO, however, claims the current approach may be flawed.
According to Doney, “There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner we do alcohol. In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research.”
A better approach, suggested by the foundation, is to train police officers to use a variety of tests such as pupil dilation, driver behavior and other tests to detect drug impaired drivers. Blood tests such as those which test for the presence of THC should also be used but only to add additional support of intoxication.
Why is marijuana impairment so difficult to detect?
Experts note one of the main issues is the difficulty detecting marijuana impairment. For instance, marijuana use can affect different drivers in different ways, much more so than alcohol use.
In fact, studies indicate that some drivers who are frequent pot users may be able to safely operate a vehicle with relatively high levels of THC in their system. Other drivers who do not frequently use pot, however, may be unsafe to operate a motorized vehicle with relatively limited use.
Another issue is the persistent levels of the drug which can remain in a driver’s blood long after the driver consumes the drug. States which have passed a zero tolerance policy for marijuana use, even those which allow pot use for medicinal purposes, may force some users to choose between never driving or never smoking marijuana or risking a criminal charge.
Marijuana use compared to other distractions
Critics of the current drug detection and criminalization strategies also argue that if the government really wanted to decrease distractions and traffic injuries and fatalities they would turn their focus to other issues.
For example, using a cell phone or driving with a noisy child in the car may easily be as dangerous as using marijuana and driving. And although states have taken steps to increase the safety of cell phone use, there’s little evidence that devices such as hands free cell phones are the answer.
One thing we know for sure is this will not be last we hear about this issue. As more states legalize the use of marijuana we can expect legislatures, lobbyists and drivers to battle it out to determine what is the appropriate method to detect drug intoxication and impairment. Other issues which may also be debated in the coming months and years is the amount of personal liberty drivers are willing to forfeit all in the name of safety.
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