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Does Marijuana Impair Driving?

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More than 94 million Americans have admitted to using marijuana at least once in their lives. With more and more people voting in favor of its legalization, the on-going debate has opened multiple avenues for discussion regarding its long-term effects and social consequences.

What are the Effects of Marijuana?

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that comes from the dried flowers, leaves, and stem of the plant Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. Unlike other substances, weed cannot be categorized neatly into one specific drug type. Its effects vary from user to user and are influenced by many factors, such as the kind of strain used and how it was prepared or administered. Marijuana has properties that can be attributed to three out of four main classifications of drugs, with opiates being the only exception.

As a depressant, weed slows brain function and relaxes muscles, making it useful in the context of medicine as it can be used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and muscle spasms. However, without proper supervision, it could lead to nausea, confusion, blurred vision, and short-term memory loss. Consuming weed can also elicit the opposite effects when it acts as a stimulant. It can make the user feel more alert and energetic, with the possible trade-off of paranoia, an irregular heartbeat, and seizures.

In mainstream media and to the masses, weed is known for its hallucinogenic effects. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary mind-altering chemical in marijuana, is often portrayed as having the ability to mess with one’s perception of reality. While its effects remain to vary from one person to another, many users report having a warped sense of space and time after consuming marijuana.

Continuous use of marijuana in high doses can bring about long-term negative effects to one’s health. Drug dependency, addiction, memory loss, lung cancer, and loss of mental functions are among the most notable side effects of marijuana abuse.

Marijuana Use and Driving

Research suggests marijuana use leads to impaired driving. Because THC alters perception, Cannabis decreases the ability of drivers to deliver on the demands of the road substantially. Attention span, reaction time, motor coordination, and the capacity to make sound judgments diminish significantly

Although some experimental studies yield differing data, such results must be taken with a grain of salt. After further analysis, researchers found that participants employ compensatory strategies during drive tests once made aware of their intoxication. As such, it would be erroneous to cite said reports to claim that driving under the influence of marijuana does not make one more likely to get into a car accident.

The effect of marijuana on driving ability is debated upon greatly up to this day. A definitive answer encapsulating its exact consequences is yet to be produced by the scientific community. Research limitations and a vast number of extraneous variables like dosage, means of administration, and time of intake makes it hard to come up with accurate results. Nonetheless, strong evidence points to a link between marijuana use and impaired driving, as the drug reduces a user’s ability to perceive time, distance, and speed accurately.

The Legalization of Marijuana

Marijuana has gained public acceptance over the past years, winning over almost 60% of the American population to vote in favor of its legalization. In 2019, more than 50% of all state legislatures were considering to decriminalize possession and use of weed. A majority of the US has been using marijuana exclusively for healthcare, with only a few states making its recreational use legal.

The case for marijuana legalization is grounded heavily on its medicinal properties, particularly in pain control. Medical marijuana is manufactured to contain more cannabidiol (CBD), the component of weed that has little to no intoxicating properties. CBD-dominant strains of marijuana are low on THC, allowing it to alleviate anxiety, insomnia, and muscle pain without altering the consciousness of its users and treat life-threatening disorders such as epilepsy. Today, the use of medical marijuana is legal in 33 states.

On the other hand, legalizing recreational marijuana is a lot trickier. Advocates argue that permissive laws would promote consumer safety and reduce discriminatory arrests, but many would counter these claims by referencing the current situation in Amsterdam. Famous for effectively legalizing pot, its citizens are now alarmed at high crime rates surrounding the areas where the drug is sold. The city is also wary about its effects on children, seeing how they are exposed to weed at such a young age.

Marijuana-Related Car Accidents

Marijuana is the second most common substance found in people caught driving under the influence (DUI). In 2017, it was reported that 13% of nighttime weekend drivers were operating a vehicle while intoxicated on weed. With the growing support for its legalization, researchers explore the consequences of these numbers concerning road safety.

Multiple studies agree that legalizing recreational marijuana leads to an increased rate of traffic collisions. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), Washington, Oregon, and Colorado experienced up to six percent (6%) more car accidents following the decision to legalize the drug. While this spike is seen to normalize in a year’s time, driving under the influence of marijuana is undoubtedly a cause for concern. Acute consumption of weed puts drivers at a higher risk of crashing and falling into fatal situations. In fact, a study showed 12% of car accidents resulting in driver fatalities involved marijuana use.

DUI Laws in California

California is one of the 11 states that allow recreational marijuana and was the first to approve of its use in medicine. Its liberal policies are coupled with stringent rules and regulations for use and possession. California DUI laws state that it is illegal to drive under the influence of any drug and that a responding officer must assess the actual impairment of the driver.

Violating DUI laws are considered a misdemeanor in the state, which could result in the following penalties:

Offense Fines Probation Suspension of License Jail Time
1st Offense $390 to $1,000
(plus “penalty assessments”)
Three to five-year term of informal probation (plus three-month DUI school) Six months 48 hours to six months
2nd Offense $390 to $1,000
(plus “penalty assessments”)
Three to five-year term of informal probation (plus 18- to 30-month DUI school) Two years 96 hours to one year
3rd Offense Up to $1,800 Three to five-year term of informal probation (plus 30-month DUI school) Three years 120 days to one year

Proving Marijuana Impairment

Unlike alcohol, marijuana cannot be accurately measured on the spot. There are no breathalyzers for THC, and the fact that traces of the drug can linger within the body for days after intake makes it hard to quantify marijuana impairment. Even after subjecting someone to blood or urine tests, there is no standard value that categorizes a user to be “under the influence” based on how much THC was found in his or her blood or urine.

Hire a Veteran Car Accident Attorney

If you were involved in a marijuana-related car accident, it is in your best interest to seek the help of an expert car accident attorney. Get a free legal consultation from Mesriani Law Group today and secure our legal services to maximize your car accident claims and get justice and proper compensation for personal injuries.

About the Author
Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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