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Marijuana Reform in the U.S. Leads to Questions Regarding Impairment; Chief Justice Rules in Arizona on Impairment Case

Marijuana Reform News Update today December 16, 2015:

As states have taken action to set up rules and regulations to regulate alcohol use, so to must they define specific rules and regulation associated with the use of marijuana.  More states are expected to legalize marijuana in 2016 which will make it even more necessary for states to have a clear understanding of the rules and regulations that will need to be implemented.  Currently in the U.S., 4 states have passed laws to permit the use of recreational marijuana and 23 states also permit the use of medical marijuana.  The reform push across the U.S. is also pushing concern related to driving under the influence of marijuana.

Driving under the Influence:

Although driving under the influence of alcohol remains a much more dangerous threat to the public, concerns are on the rise regarding people that may drive while under the influence of marijuana.  According to the National Highway Safety Administration survey that was conducted in 2013 and 2014, drivers with marijuana in their systems grew by almost 50 percent since 2007.  The data was collected via an anonymous survey taken voluntarily by people all across the U.S.

There is confusion right now though regarding how to measure the amount of marijuana in a person’s system and what that measurement actually means.  Although alcohol can leave a persons system relatively quickly, marijuana can be measured in a person’s system for weeks after use.  So, although a measurement can detect that a person has used marijuana in the past, how well can impairment be measured and what is the level of impairment that is unacceptable?  These are tough questions that all states pushing forward with marijuana reform must grapple with and attempt to answer.

Marijuana and Driving Regulation Update:

How can authorities definitely determine if someone who has used marijuana is actually too impaired to be driving?  This issue is being debated in Arizona where the Supreme Court there just ruled that even if a person is authorized for medical marijuana use does not mean that they can not be charged with driving under the influence of marijuana.  Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Arizona, but it does not grant legal authorized users immunity from prosecution if marijuana use leads to impaired driving.  An interesting caveat in this recent ruling though is that the Chief Justice, Scott Bales, relayed that just the presence of marijuana alone is not proof that someone is actually impaired.  Bales went on to clarify that defendants charged with driving under the influence of marijuana can escape conviction by proving that the concentration of marijuana in their bodies is insufficient to cause driving impairment.  So, how does a state determine the concentration of a certain drug to establish if a person is officially impaired and unable to drive?  There are not currently any major studies which definitively show what level of marijuana in a person’s blood system equals unacceptable impairment.  This lack of scientific data leads to confusion and will lead to an inconsistent approach to regulation and rule making across states.

As more states approve the use of medical and recreational marijuana, more states will face the problem of determining driving regulations.  The overall goal is to make our nation’s roads a safe place for all drivers.  It is apparent that scientific study needs to take place to determine how marijuana affects one’s ability to drive, and to determine a measurement system that can legitimately identify impairment.  The one clear understanding in all of this is that driving while impaired from the use of any substance should be illegal, and authorities should have a clear, concise, scientifically proven effective way to determine if a person is impaired.





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