Will Legalizing Medical Marijuana Increase Accidents Involving Stoned Drivers?


December 10, 2014

The Georgia General Assembly is currently contemplating legalizing medical marijuana.  While the decriminalization of marijuana has been a growing trend in many states, the potential impact on motor vehicle accident fatality rates should be considered as part of any liberalization of cannabis possession and use laws in Georgia.  A committee has been appointed and assigned the responsibility to make recommendations regarding moving forward on a medical marijuana law in Georgia according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  This proposal follows a failed effort last year to reach a compromise on the passage of House Bill 885, which would have permitted the use of cannabis by individuals suffering with seizure disorders.

During recent years, a significant number of states have enacted medical marijuana laws.  A couple of states have even gone further by legalizing small quantities of marijuana for recreational use.  However, laws that potentially make marijuana use more common need to be evaluated in terms of their potential impact on public safety.  Intoxicated drivers account for a third of all traffic related fatalities.  There is certainly room for debate as to whether legalization of medical marijuana would increase the number of crashes caused by a “stoned driver”, this is an issue that should be considered if Georgia lawmakers plan to partially or totally decriminalize the use of pot.

DUI violations involving marijuana are harder for police and prosecutors to enforce which might mean drivers are less deterred by the prospect of a DUI arrest or conviction.  For example, the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is the most reliable standardized field sobriety test (SFST) for identifying drunk drivers, is notoriously inaccurate for detecting marijuana impaired drivers.  This SFST has been shown to be 88 percent effective at identifying drivers who are under the influence of alcohol.  By contrast, a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2012 found that only 30 percent of those under the influence of TCH, the active ingredient of pot, failed the test.  The test effectiveness was directly related to how frequently the individual got stoned.

Another of the three SFSTs, the one-leg stand is not much more accurate at identifying stoned drivers.  While a habitual alcoholic or a new drinker on a bender will both struggle with this field sobriety test, the test only identified infrequent cannabis users under the influence of marijuana fifty percent of the time in another recent study.

The inability of SFSTs to accurately identify drivers impaired by pot is compounded by the limits of chemical testing.  The metabolites of TCH remain in the blood stream far beyond the time that the drug has an effect on the mental and/or physical capacity of a motorist.   Drivers can test positive for TCH even if the driver is not under the influence of pot at the time of driving which further complicates the process of using the threat of DUI convictions to deter this form of impaired driving.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case

If you or a loved one is injured by a stoned driver, you might have a right to financial compensation for your injuries.  Our injury attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.  No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333).  You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat. 

Sources:

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/health/driving-under-the-influence-of-marijuana.html?_r=0

 http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25770838/more-colorado-drivers-fatal-crashes-positive-pot-study

 http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/georgia-to-study-legalizing-medical-marijuana/ngN2t/?__federated=1

 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3456923/

 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15619106

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.