With medical marijuana legal in Washington, D.C., there have been some questions raised about what to do with individuals who drive after smoking. If the individual has some marijuana in his or her system but it is not impairing his or her ability to drive, should that be a crime? At what point does marijuana even affect the ability to drive? These are questions that, up until now, researchers have not been able to answer, but a new study could provide the answers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study the effects of marijuana on an individual's ability to drive. Though there has been considerable research on the effects cannabis has on the brain, memory, motor skills and decision making, this will be the first study that focuses exclusively on driving performance.
Though states do not yet know if marijuana has a negative effect on driving, many states have passed per se drug laws that criminalize any amount of the drug in a suspect's system, even if it is causing no apparent impairment. In these states, even if a driver is approved to use medical marijuana, he or she will not be able to use it and drive. Even trace amounts of the drug in an individual's system will end with a criminal conviction.
Other states, however, rely on proof that the driver was actually impaired by the drug before pressing charges. If there is no indication that his or her driving has been compromised by the marijuana, he or she cannot face criminal charges.
It remains to be seen how this study will change the fate of impaired driving in Washington, D.C.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Study looks at driving under influence of pot," Vanessa Miller, Sept. 9, 2012
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