Editor: A bill in the California legislation that would have created per se limits on driving under the influence of specified drugs – like marijuana – based on blood tests even absent other evidence of impairment, AB 2500, just failed in the Public Safety Committee.
More bills like this are expected. So, this may be a good time to see what a law enforcement group in favor of marijuana legalization has to say on marijuana DUIs.
By Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
- Unlike alcohol, THC can stay in the bloodstream for days or weeks. We must find a way to accurately measure the impairment of a driver if we’re going to fairly charge them with a crime. Currently, officers in every state but West Virginia are being trained to become drug recognition experts who can recognize the signs of drug impairment and make arrests for drugged driving offenses (4) Blood tests should be no substitute for good police work.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.” and “It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.” (8)
- A study published by the Journal of Law & Economics found that adoption of medical marijuana laws is associated with a decline in traffic fatalities(1)
- DUI fatalities in both Colorado and Washington slightly decreased after legalization went into effect. 2013 data in Washington is still preliminary, but for the first three quarters there were only 317 fatalities; for the first three quarters of 2012, before legalization went into effect, there were 327. Similarly, in Colorado in 2012 there were 434 fatalities; preliminary data for 2013 shows there were only 424. (6)
- The study showing an increase in number of DUI drivers with THC in their blood that opponents like to cite was based on six states (3), three of which didn’t have medical marijuana/legalization/decriminalization laws during the study, so the increase is not a product of changing marijuana laws. The three that did have medical marijuana laws – California, Hawaii and Rhode Island – saw sharp decreases in traffic fatalities between enactment of their medical marijuana laws and the end of the study period. Fatalities fell 31%, 14% and 21%, respectively. (2)
- Marijuana seems to be a substitute for alcohol – medical marijuana laws are associated with decreases in the probability of having consumed alcohol in the past month, binge drinking, and the number of drinks consumed. (1)
- Traffic fatalities may be decreasing in association with this this substitution effect and the fact that most people drink alcohol on weekends outside of the home (parties, bars, restaurants, etc) and are more inclined to drive after having consumed… whereas most marijuana is consumed in the home or other private locations, meaning there is less reason/necessity to drive after consumption (1)
- Someone who uses marijuana very little or rarely will be more impaired and make more mistakes than someone who smokes more and more frequently. (1) This ties into the 5ng THC/ml of blood limit some states have enacted because it’s very possible that someone with a higher ng count is actually less likely to cause an accident.
- While alcohol causes an increase in traffic fatalities, it remains legal because, as we found out in the 1920s, regulation and control is a better policy than prohibition. But we also promote responsible policies to prevent driving while intoxicated and punish those who break the laws. We need a similar policy in place for marijuana.
5. 5. http://www.wtsc.wa.gov/statistics-reports/crash-data/ (Download report)
6. 6. http://www.coloradodot.info/library/traffic/traffic-manuals-guidelines/safety-crash-data/fatal-crash-data-city-county/historical_fatals.pdf/view
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a 501(c)3 nonprofit of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs.
For interviews, please contact Darby Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.823.5496.