Will Legalized Marijuana Increase DUIs?

Legalized marijuana has been around in some states for a few years now. Have DUIs increased? That’s a tricky question. Unlike alcohol, there is no scientifically accurate way to measure how much THC is in someone’s system at the time of an arrest. Nor is there a hard number to say how much THC is too much like the 0.08 blood alcohol limit in most states.

Michael Lovins, lawyer and co-founder of Lovins Trosclair, PLLC, has this to say about the problem. “Unfortunately, the standards for driving while high are no longer cut and dried. Medical and recreational marijuana legalization have created gray areas in law where police have to make a judgment call on intoxication. Until we can measure THC levels in the body like we can with alcohol, questions about how much is too much to drive will remain.”

Colorado’s DUIs Since Legalization

Let’s take a look at Colorado’s DUI statistics since they legalized recreational cannabis in 2012. It took them several tries to finally get a marijuana DUI metric into law in 2013 and activists say that the limit is far too low. The state limit is 5 ng/ml of THC in the system and that’s a hard number that most other states have adopted.

Colorado does say that fatalities related to drugged driving are increasing in their state. The state says that 17% of all DUI arrests in Colorado were related to marijuana in 2016. More worrisome is that 55% of surveyed drivers said that it was safe to drive while high.

What To Do About DUI?

The answer in the short term appears to be, yes, DUIs are increasing. And that makes sense if you think about it. Marijuana, while widely abused, is now legal in many areas and people aren’t used to responsibly using the drug. If you can remember the first few times you had alcohol or cigarettes, or even an energy drink, you probably didn’t know how much was too much or how badly it would affect you. People are still learning their limits.

That’s why all states with legalized marijuana also allow officers to charge someone with drugged driving if their behavior suggests they are too high to drive. There is a compelling public interest in removing impaired drivers from the roads. Activists say that putting a number on THC amounts doesn’t work because it discriminates against those who take marijuana medically. Arizona is in the midst of a legal battle to give medical patients the same legal protections as people accused of DUI.

People need education on how to use legalized marijuana safely. But science also needs to come up with a way to measure levels of impairment with THC to give lawmakers and officers a metric to use for DUI arrests. That’s a difficult prospect because marijuana isn’t a single chemical like alcohol. There are many different cannabinoids of different strengths and different strains. The way you take it can affect how hard and fast a high will hit. It’s not nearly as simple as alcohol.

Until we have the hard science and a greater general understanding of how cannabis affects different people, there will be confusion and increased DUIs. Hopefully, the research will come sooner rather than later.

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Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.