All it takes is one look at the rise in Colorado’s Driving Under the Influence arrests to see the negative impact that has resulted since the state legalized marijuana’s recreational use in November 2012.
In fact in June of 2014, the state’s largest detox network found that the number of patients charged with a DUI while high on pot nearly doubled from the year prior. The same scenario is likely to happen in Nevada if voters decide to legalize the drug’s recreational use in November.
Meanwhile, in Washington State, a recent report by the American Auto Association (AAA) found that the percentage of drivers who are deemed high on pot during fatal accidents more than doubled between 2013 and 2014. Marijuana was involved in 17 percent of fatal crashes in 2014, up from 8 percent in 2013, the year before recreational marijuana was allowed there.
That statistic was called “alarming” by Peter Kissinger, CEO of the foundation that funds scientifically rigorous studies for the drivers organization. “Washington serves as an eye-opening case study for what other states may experience with road safety after legalizing the drug,” he said.
According to AAA, while tests show the ability to drive gets worse as blood alcohol rises, lab studies show the same is not necessarily true with increased levels of THC, the main chemical component in marijuana, found in the blood. One driver with high levels of THC might not be impaired, while another driver with very low levels can be impaired.
“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment, in the same manner as we do with alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s CEO. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research. It’s simply not possible today to determine whether a driver is impaired based solely on the amount of the drug in their body.”
Because it’s hard to treat alcohol and marijuana the same in terms of the impairment it creates, most agree that better roadside mechanisms to test impairment is needed. Still, it’s clear from statistics in both Colorado and Washington that marijuana does impact the drivers’ senses, impairing judgment and causing slower reaction times.
Regardless of whether or not it’s legal to buy and smoke marijuana, it’s still against the law to drive while high. It’s a message that according to current statistics, may not be resonating with many marijuana users, but one that Nevada voters would do well to consider when deciding whether to legalize the drug’s recreational use this November.