Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, drugged driving has become a significant safety concern in Colorado. As many Lakewood residents know, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in the state. Lawmakers have established a legal limit, and drivers who exceed it can be charged with intoxicated driving. Still, research suggests that the current law and limit may allow many impaired drivers to evade punishment.
Difficulty of identifying impairment
Establishing a legal impairment level for marijuana has proven more challenging than identifying one for alcohol. As U.S. News & World Report explains, people exhibit much more variable reactions to marijuana than to alcohol. Tolerance and other factors may influence how a person metabolizes marijuana and how impaired the person becomes.
In Colorado, the legal limit for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of marijuana, is set at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Research suggests that this limit may be problematic for the following reasons:
- Drivers might be impaired while under this limit, especially if they have low tolerance. One study conducted in Sweden suggests that only 10 percent of drivers who qualify as impaired exceed this limit.
- The amount of THC in a driver’s blood may not reflect the amount of the substance in the driver’s system. For instance, when people aren’t habitual marijuana users, THC may leave the bloodstream relatively quickly while still affecting the brain.
- Long-term users may show lingering impairment for weeks after last using marijuana. These people often still have low levels of THC present in their blood. However, these levels may not be enough to exceed the legal limit.
Additionally, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, a drugged driver can’t be charged with DUI just for exceeding the legal THC limit. Arresting officers must also see clear signs of impairment. Drivers who don’t exhibit these signs may be able to challenge the charges against them. Given all of these factors, many potentially dangerous drivers may go unpunished.
Effects of marijuana impairment
Research increasingly indicates that drivers who are under the influence of marijuana put others in danger. The CDOT notes that marijuana can slow response times, impair memory, reduce coordination and alter perceptions of space or time. All of these effects can raise the risk of accidents. According to U.S. News & World Report, one study shows that using marijuana doubles a person’s likelihood of crashing.
Sadly, accidents involving marijuana may be increasing in Colorado. As ABC News reports, from 2007 to 2012, the number of fatal marijuana-related accidents that occurred in the state doubled. In 2012, 78 lives were lost in these accidents. In contrast, overall traffic fatalities fell 15 percent during the same time. This suggests that marijuana-related accidents pose a growing threat, despite laws that aim to punish and prevent drugged driving.
Liability after accidents
Drivers who cause accidents while intoxicated or otherwise impaired may be found negligent and held liable for resulting injuries. However, establishing that a driver was impaired, especially when substances such as marijuana are involved, can be challenging. Consequently, anyone who has been hurt in such an accident should consider seeking advice from a personal injury attorney.