Legalized marijuana has been gaining support. According to CBS, Illinois legalized recreational marijuana this year, making it the eleventh state to do so. Although marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, 33 states have legalized marijuana in some form.
More states may pass laws to legalize marijuana in the coming years, and some people have been calling for legalization on the federal level. Other people have concerns, though. One of those concerns is the risk for an uptick in people driving while high.
Cannabis and Cars: A Dangerous Combination
When you’re behind the wheel, you need to be alert. Being able to operate under ideal conditions isn’t enough. You also have to be ready for the unexpected – like when an emergency vehicle needs to get past you, the car in front of you brakes suddenly, or a child runs out in front of you. If you’re under the influence of marijuana, you may not be able to respond in time.
According to the CDC, marijuana can slow your reaction time, impair your coordination, distort your perception and negatively impact memory and problem-solving abilities. When combined with alcohol, the impairment is even greater, but even marijuana alone can lead to unsafe driving.
Need more proof that driving while high is dangerous? Fatal crashes may be going up in states that have legalized weed. According to NBC, studies indicate an increase in fatal highway crashes of up to 6 percent in states that allow recreational marijuana.
According to the DEA, 22 percent of teens say that driving while high on marijuana is common among their friends. In a 2017 survey, 4.8 million people between the ages of 16 and 25 admitted to driving while high within the last year.
These are troubling statistics. Driving while high is dangerous. It’s also illegal.
State laws vary significantly, but DUI laws generally apply to both alcohol-impaired and drug-impaired driving. It doesn’t matter whether a state has legalized recreational marijuana, either. Driving while high is still prohibited, just like drinking and driving is illegal even though alcohol is legal.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, some states have zero tolerance laws for THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, meaning that driving with any measurable amount of the drug in your system is illegal. Other states have per se laws, which make it illegal to drive when the amount of THC in your system exceeds the set limit.
The Difficulty of Testing for Marijuana Impairment
States have blood alcohol content (BAC) laws that prohibit driving when the driver’s BAC is at or over a specified limit, often .08 percent. However, testing for marijuana is not as easy as testing for alcohol.
For one thing, marijuana can stay in a person’s system for a long time. According to Healthline, marijuana can usually be detected in bodily fluids for up to 30 days after the last use. In some cases, marijuana can be detected more than 90 days after the last use. Using higher or more frequent doses increases the detection window.
As a result, a person could get a positive urine or saliva test days or weeks after last using marijuana. Even blood tests could provide positive results a day or two after use.
Researchers have been working to develop accurate marijuana breathalyzers that can be used on the side of the road. Having these devices will help law enforcement officers, but states will also have to decide on reasonable limits for THC levels.
Stay Safe and Avoid a DUI
Simply put, cannabis and cars don’t mix. Don’t drive while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. Also be aware of how long marijuana can stay in your system, resulting in positive tests days or even weeks after use.
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