While the use of marijuana has become legal in multiple states across the country, it is important for drivers to realize that it is illegal in every state to drive while under its influence. Proponents of the claimed benefits of medical cannabis have pushed many states to relax laws allowing use either recreationally or medicinally. As a result, using cannabis no longer carries the sweeping negative stigma that it once commanded. While perception and laws are changing toward legal use of marijuana, one can also find themselves in legal trouble if they are found to be driving while under the influence of drugs. The use of marijuana has been found to have a clear impact on an individual’s motor skills and reaction times as its use induces relaxation, drowsiness, euphoria, paranoia and other mind-altering symptoms. Therefore, it’s not difficult to ascertain that use of the drug can affect one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Problematically, the incidence of marijuana impaired driving appears to be on the rise.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

It is common to assume that DUIs are the result of driving while intoxicated from alcohol consumption. However, DUIs also include driving under the influence of drugs. There are now DUI laws in at least fifteen (15) states that make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of certain drugs, including marijuana, in one’s system. In Kansas, a person is guilty of DUI if he or she operates any vehicle while under the influence of any drug or combination of drugs to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely driving a vehicle, or, while a person is a habitual user of any narcotic. In April 2019, Missouri launched a drugged-driving campaign called “Drive high, get a DUI.” Law enforcement officers targeted April 20 or “420” as a date to stop and check drivers for marijuana impairment.

Marijuana Impaired Driving

The role of marijuana use in motor vehicle accidents is somewhat muddy due to the nature of the drug itself. Its impairment effects from marijuana as they can with a drug like alcohol, for which the law has provided a clear test for impairment. In many states, including here in Missouri and Kansas, a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08 or above has been determined to be an unacceptable level of impairment with which to operate a motor vehicle. Marijuana remains in the body for several weeks after use and THC (the mind-altering chemical in marijuana) affects different people in different ways. Therefore, THC levels are not a clear indication of impairment in the same way blood alcohol level is. This is largely problematic because testing someone for THC in their system does not tell you when the person consumed marijuana or whether they are impaired by it at the time of testing/the accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration admits that “it is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.” They even go so far as to state that “it is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.” Despite these current limitations, there is at least one company that is actively working on the development of THC breathalyzer test which would detect recent use of marijuana and therefore aid in marijuana impaired driving convictions and personal injury lawsuits.

Marijuana and Vehicle Crashes

Information about the amount of marijuana use in vehicle crashes is made even more imprecise because it is often used in conjunction with alcohol. When someone is involved in an accident while under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, they will typically have their blood alcohol content tested and be charged for driving while under the influence of alcohol and no test will be administered for the presence of THC.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident with an impaired driver, contact Griggs Injury Law to discuss your case with a competent and compassionate attorney.