At the present time 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana use to some degree. 13 additional states are considering similar measures, which indicates that public opinion is shifting and it may soon be an issue on the table in many more states. Along with legalization for medical purposes comes a troublesome byproduct – legal users of medical marijuana getting behind the wheel of a car. The reasons that marijuana users behind the wheel is so troublesome, particularly for law enforcement officers, is that few reliable tests exists at this time to determine when someone is actually intoxicated from the active chemical compound in marijuana, THC.
States deal with drugged driving in one of several ways, most of them making it illegal to have any trace of a drug in one’s system while behind the wheel. In the case of marijuana, states rely on blood and urine tests to detect THC in a person’s system but only six of the states with legal uses have attempted to set a legal limit for that THC blood content.
A major problem with this is that urine testing that would be done after an accident or arrest detects a chemical part of THC that remains in the body for days or weeks after someone has used marijuana and does not necessarily correlate to whether or not the person is intoxicated. In fact, because THC is stored in fatty tissue and is processed slowly, regular users may have a very high blood-THC content without actually being intoxicated at all.
What does this mean for personal injury and drugged driving car accidents? It means that science must catch up with law enforcement needs when it comes to drugged driving and that more accurate measures are needed to determine whether someone was under the influence of marijuana at the time of a car crash. Drugged drivers should be held accountable when they are intoxicated and lose control of a vehicle, just as drunk drivers are.
Source: New York Times, “Driving Under the Influence, of Marijuana,” Maggie Koerth-Baker, Feb. 17, 2014.