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Legalization of Marijuana Leaves Police Struggling Over Motorists Driving Under the Influence

Driving while under the influence (DUI) is a widely understood problem and concern across the world. Drug intoxication leads to impaired judgment, slowed reaction time, memory loss, and other dangerous symptoms that make driving a dangerous hazard. That’s why every single state in the United States bans motorists from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.08%.

Though alcohol-based offenses are the most common type of DUI, they are not the only kind. As states continue to legalize and decriminalize it, marijuana is rising as a concern and source for recent DUI offenses. Police and law enforcers are increasingly having to figure out to handle these cases in lieu of a BAC test.

About Marijuana and Expanding Legalization

Marijuana, also known as cannabis and weed, acts as both a depressant and stimulant. It’s commonly used for both medical and recreational purposes. Many medical users find that it reduces pain, improves appetite, and reduces chronic pain. Recreational users experience psychoactive and physiological effects that some deem a “mild euphoria.”

In recent years, many states have passed laws decriminalizing or legalizing (for medical reasons or not) the use of marijuana. It’s completely legal in four states, solely legal for medical uses in eight, legal medically and decriminalized in another eleven, and just decriminalized in five.

As a result, police departments, like the one in New Canaan, Connecticut, have seen a rise in the amount of “marijuana-related incidents” in the past year.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

Though studies have found that driving under the influence of alcohol has significantly more severe effects on a motorist’s capacity to drive, marijuana is still a drug that impairs drivers. One study found that marijuana reduced drivers’ peripheral vision and gave them “tunnel vision.” Those with a certain level of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana, in their system were found to weave more often within their driving line.

Additionally, the study found that combining marijuana with alcohol increased the effects of both drugs. Drivers affected by both started weaving in lanes at far lower levels of intoxication than those who had been intoxicated at higher levels of both. The presence of alcohol in the system also increased the THC’s absorption level, resulting in a more powerful “high” from the marijuana.

Legal and Police Action

Currently, seventeen states have “per se” laws that prohibit motorists from driving with certain levels of THC in their system. The rest feature other standards which are less defined in their handling of marijuana influence.

When it comes to alcohol intoxication, it’s much easier for police officers to administer a BAC test. With marijuana, it’s much trickier. Some police departments are experimenting with hiring “drug recognition experts” who can examine individual motorists on-scene to judge whether or not they are too under the influence to drive a vehicle.

As marijuana use rises as a result of legalization and decriminalization, law enforcement agencies hope to get a better handle on making the roads safe from those under the influence of any drug, not just alcohol.


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