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What does it mean to be too high to drive?

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2016 | DWI

This November, an additional four states decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana. Numerous more states allow marijuana to be prescribed medicinally, including New York. As states increasingly treat marijuana similarly to alcohol, the question follows: what does it mean to be too high to drive?

There are usually obvious signs that an individual is too drunk to drive safely. An individual is legally impaired if he or she has a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent. According to a study, evaluating the effects of marijuana on motorists is far more difficult. The study also notes that blood tests aren’t very reliable for determining a driver’s level of impairment by cannabis. Since more and more states are permitting recreational use of marijuana, it is necessary to reevaluate what it means to be too high to drive. 

Accurate tests are difficult to determine

Many legislators are finding it a significant challenge to create laws on driving under the influence of marijuana. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study and found that six states measure the amount of THC in an individual’s blood to assess impairment. The agency concluded that the laws in these six states are not backed by science.

Jake Nelson, who is the director of traffic safety advocacy and research, noted that there is no concentration of marijuana that can reliably predict an individual’s level of impairment.

The study notes that the body absorbs cannabis and alcohol differently. An individual’s level of impairment by alcohol is directly related to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. On the other hand, cannabis impairment occurs when THC reaches the brain’s fatty tissue.

People who use marijuana regularly for recreational or medical purposes usually show little to no signs of impairment after using marijuana, according to Jolene Forman, who is a lawyer for a drug-reform advocacy group. Forman notes that marijuana can remain in the blood for up to several weeks after the effects of the marijuana wear off. Forman argues that relying on blood tests to determine impairment could lead to many arbitrary punishments.

What does the AAA recommend?

Based on its findings, the AAA study recommended that states toss any laws that rely on thresholds. Instead, laws should be established to test other factors that point to impairment. Nelson recommends that trained specialists conduct drug assessments and that drivers perform standard field sobriety tests. The drug assessment would include a blood test to ensure cannabis was actually present in the motorist’s bloodstream.

Now that recreational marijuana is legal in more states than ever before, it is necessary for legislators to update and create new laws on marijuana impairment.

In the meanwhile, however, those accused of driving while intoxicated due to marijuana impairment should be sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.