With more states passing laws that legalize marijuana, there’s a growing concern over the trend of drugged driving. Drugged driving is similar to drunk driving, the only difference being a driver is impaired by illegal, over-the-counter or prescription drugs instead of alcohol. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) has long been a concern for law enforcement. However, increased pot use has added to this concern.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), claims that after alcohol, marijuana is the most frequently detected drug found in the blood of impaired drivers involved in fatal vehicle crashes and traffic arrests. A 2009 NHTSA report stated that drug use by drivers who died in vehicle crashes increased from 13 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2008.
The question being debated is whether marijuana use impairs drivers. According to recent studies, the answer is “yes” and “no.”
Research published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs showed that alcohol most likely contributes to the risk of fatal vehicle accidents, more so than drugs. However, when drugs were separated into “marijuana” and “other drugs,” it was the “other drugs” and not “marijuana,” that contributed “significantly to crash risk,” according to the study titled, “Drugs and Alcohol: Their Relative Crash Risk.”
A contrasting study, by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, claimed that marijuana use was the primary reason for an increase in drug-related fatal crashes seeing that marijuana was the drug detected in the fatally injured drivers in the study.
Researchers used statistics from more than 23,500 drivers who died within one hour of a vehicle crash from 1999 to 2010. The study found that drug-related accidents increased from 16.6 percent in 1999 to 28.3 percent in 2010. Alcohol-related crashes remained at 40 percent during that same time period.
The data was published in the January 2014 online issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology and statistics used in the study were taken from California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
New Hampshire Legislation
Members of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives are debating legislation to legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Last year, the state legislature passed a law legalizing marijuana only for medical purposes.
The bill to legalize pot would allow citizens over 21 years old to buy and possess up to an ounce of the drug. The bill would also allow individuals to grow a maximum of six cannabis plants for their personal use. If the bill passes the House, it is expected to have a tough time in the Republican-controlled Senate. Governor Maggie Hassan reportedly said that she would veto a bill to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire.
Under current New Hampshire law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor crime punishable by one year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Selling pot is a felony crime and the years of imprisonment and fines vary depending on the amount of sold.
So far across the country, 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, but politicians are more reluctant to decriminalize the drug. Washington and Colorado are the only states to approve the recreational use of this substance. With drugged driving now sharing the spotlight with drunk driving, it doesn’t appear that the debate over marijuana will go away any time soon.