If You Smoke Marijuana and Drive, Watch Out for Propositions to Legalize Pot!

San Diego DefendersIf You Smoke Marijuana and Drive, Watch Out for Propositions to Legalize Pot

Nearly four years ago, California voters nearly voted to legalize marijuana. In fact, the proposition was leading in the polls leading up to election day, but, at the last minute it failed. Whether it was the enormous amounts of out­of­state money poured in to fight the proposition or the scare tactics of claiming that if it passed, it would make it legal to drive while you were under the influence of pot, the proposition lost by a few percentage points.

It is interesting to note, it already was and would have continued to be illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana or any other drug. Vehicle Code section 23152(a) made it illegal to drive while under the influence of a drug. If a person had consumed enough marijuana so that they could no longer drive with the same care and caution of a sober person, they were guilty of a DUI. The legalize pot proposition did nothing to change that.

In anticipation of this year’s elections, more than one group is trying to qualify another proposition seeking to legalize marijuana in California. Recently, other States have legalized marijuana. One of the tings that was done in those States to help get the law passed was to include a "per se" legal limit for how much marijuana could be in your system before it was illegal to drive. The primary active ingredient in marijuana is THC­9. Active ingredient means that is the chemical compound that causes the effects of a drug, the "high". Both Washington and Colorado made it illegal to drive if you had 5 nanograms or more of THC­9 in your blood system.

The idea was to mirror alcohol DUI laws. In every State, it is illegal to drive if you are under the influence of alcohol. Again, under the influence is defined as so impaired you cannot drive safely. But, this is a very subjective standard. So, to make it easier to get DUI convictions, States passed per se legal limits. Today, 0.08% is the legal limit. If you drive and your BAC is 0.08% or more, you are guilty.

So, California is now going to be voting whether to do the same thing as Washington and Colorado and set a 5 nanogram legal limit. Here’s the problem. It is completely arbitrary. Prior to legal limits being set for alcohol and driving, there had been decades of research on how alcohol affected driving ability. Furthermore, there was enormous amounts of data on BAC’s and vehicle crashes. The research and data collection had been done by the National Highway Safety Administration, numerous scientists around the world and at universities. It had been published and peer reviewed. There was a fair consensus that most people would be too impaired, primarily mentally, to drive safely if they were 0.08% or higher. So, the law has a legitimate basis.

Contrasty, there is no such body of work about the effects marijuana has on a person’s ability to drive. There have been a few studies, but certainly not enough to create any consensus whatsoever. In fact, the exact opposite situation exists. Some "experts" who usually work for the police and prosecutors will say in their opinion if you have ANY THC­9 in your system, you are not safe to drive. At the other end of the spectrum, some studies have concluded that some drivers with a moderate amount of THC­( in their system are actually safer drivers than your average stone cold sober person. So, there is no legitimate basis for the 5 nanogram limit. In fact, some prosecutors will not even bother filing a case unless the test reults come back at twice that level or higher.

Furthermore, research has shown that unlike regular users of alcohol, who may be tolerant, but, are still unsafe to drive over the legal limit, regular users of marijuana, especially if they always use the same type of cannabis, develop tolerance that translates into being able to drive safely with THC­9 in their system that would make a casual user too impaired to be safe.

Perhaps the biggest problem is how low the number is being set at. Marijuana stays in your system and can be detected for long periods of time. Regular users of marijuana will almost always have detectable amounts of THC in their system. Anti-­pot experts will say that only metabolites would show up in tests, like THC­ 11, not the THC­9 that the law is concerned with. That has not yet clearly been proven. The bigger issue is that a regular pot smoker may have 5 or more nanograms of marijuana in their system and have absolutely no sense that they are impaired at all, because they aren’t. So, it becomes nearly impossible fr them to know if they can legaly drive or not.

So, if you use or would like to use pot and are excited about the possibility a legalization proposition is coming soon to California, be wary. If it passes, it may mean a lot of people will get marijuana DUI’s who were perfectly safe to be driving.