So far, two states, Washington and Colorado have passed laws legalizing the possession and use of marijuana. In addition, several other states – including Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Massachussets, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont – are seriously considering enacting similar laws in the near future. Moreover, some states, such as California, permit the use of marijuana for “medicinal” purposes. (It should be noted that Federal law still prohibits the possession, sale and use of marijuana, and Federal law trumps state law. But, it is uncertain how zealously the liberal Obama administration will seek to overrride these states’ laws, particularly since many of its supporters are in favor of the aforementioned laws.)
Putting aside the argument over the propriety of the legalization of marijuana, there is one substantial unintended consequence. That is the affect of its use on motorists who operate motor vehicles while under its influence, and, by extension, passengers and other motorists. Studies have shown that marijuana and other drugs can impair a driver’s perception, cognition, reaction time, attentiveness, and coordination. Furthermore, many marijuana users also use alcohol, which leads to a “double-down” deterioration of the above.
In Colorado and Washington as in most other states, the law regarding motorists driving under the influence of drugs is weak compared to to the laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol. DUI alcohol is universally a “per se” test. If you are detained, your blood is tested, and your blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) is greater than .08, bingo, you are considered to be DUI. With respect to drugs, however, there is no agreement as to what constitutes impairment. Only a handful of states have “per se” laws that make it illegal to drive when there is any detectable amount of a drug in the driver’s blood. In most states, the standard is much more difficult to prove. In California, for example, prosecutors have to demonstrate that the driver with drugs in his blood was actually “impaired.” This has been very difficult to prove. Therefore, often, cases are dismissed or plead down to lesser offenses.
Conclusion and Prediction
Studies have shown that marijuana is the most common drug present in drug impaired drivers. The trend toward legalization will only exacerbate the above-discussed problems, since many states appear to be rushing to pass marijuana legalization laws without having addressed the drug’s affect on motorists. Lawmakers need to proceed more deliberately. They should at least enact “per se” DUI drug laws with penalties that parallel DUI alcohol laws, and educate users and the general public as to the risks. Unfortunately, I doubt that they will do so.