New federal legislation signed into law by President Obama late last year directs the government to study the effects that marijuana use has on driving. As part of the study, the Department of Transportation is tasked with looking into the possibility of setting some sort of nationwide standard for marijuana impairment while driving, similar to the limits set on the amount of alcohol a driver is allowed to have in their blood.
It now falls to the Trump Administration to carry out the study, as well as an awareness campaign directed at teaching people about “the dangers of drug-impaired driving, including the dangers of driving while under the influence of heroin or prescription opioids.”
Anyone who has followed the so-called “stoned driving” debate knows that the science so far shows that it is impossible to correlate the amount of THC in someone’s blood with their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Marijuana use affects people in a variety of ways and each person has a different tolerance level when it comes to cannabis.
The federal study is also to look for “effective and efficient methods for training law enforcement personnel, including drug recognition experts, to detect or measure the level of impairment of a motor vehicle operator who is under the influence of marijuana by the use of technology or otherwise.”
This second approach is likely a more promising one if your goal is to actually determine the impairment of a driver, whether they are on marijuana or pills or any other mind-altering substance. As technology advances, authorities may be able to someday determine how long ago you used marijuana and set laws accordingly. Developing a standard will be difficult and there will be a lot of trial and error in the process. Unfortunately, many drivers may get charged with unnecessary DUIs during that process.
In any case, it all may be much ado about nothing as recent data suggests that increasing the legality of cannabis does not cause an increase in traffic fatalities, a commonly expressed fear by those who support marijuana prohibition.
As marijuana law reform advances across the country it will bring its own set of new problems. Not that people driving high is a new thing; it’s just one that lawmakers and law enforcement only seem to get worried about when the subject of legalization is broached. But things like impaired driving, child custody and workplace drug testing will all need to be hammered out in various states.
With new laws come new considerations and most likely, many new government studies.