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Legal States Debate Policing People Who Drive High

Most responsible adults balk at the idea of driving under the influence. Of anything. Period.

Yet we've all known that one person who swears they actually drive better after a couple of tokes. So what's the real deal? Should high drivers be targeted for more social shaming and gut-wrenching, terrifying PSAs?

According to The Cannabist, drugs - and that means all drugs, not just cannabis - are just as bad as alcohol in terms of the number of deaths caused on the road. A Governor's Highway Safety Association report indicates as many as 40 percent of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for illicit substances - almost the same that tested positive for alcohol. Marijuana was found in the systems of about a third of those the drivers killed.

But there's one issue: the metabolites from cannabis that stay in your body long after you cease to be high also trigger a positive test. In other words, while the drivers smoked marijuana, they weren't necessarily impaired when they crashed.

Study author James Hedlund told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The jury is still very much out. You certainly could not say unambiguously that marijuana increases crash risk. The only thing you can say with confidence is that in laboratory experiments, it affects a lot of things that are related to driving."

As a result, devices that test reliably and quickly for cannabis impairment are a hot ticket in tech right now. Cannabix Technologies - a research lab based in Vancouver - has partnered with the University of Florida to create a prototype breath tester, as demonstrated in this video, that's more accurate and less invasive than current testing methods. Researchers at Washington State University are also working on a cannabis breathalyzer.

Yet it's interesting to note that there has, for whatever reason, been an overall decrease in fatal road crashes in Colorado since the legalization of recreational cannabis. As the Independent's Radley Balko puts it, "roadway fatalities this year are down from last year [2014], and down from the 13-year average."

Balko continues, "while some studies have shown that the number of drivers involved in fatal collisions who test positive for marijuana has steadily increased as pot has become more available, other studies have shown that overall traffic fatalities in those states have dropped."

As far as Colorado is concerned, however, all these numbers really show is that the roads have been safer in the years since legalization - though, "not, necessarily, that marijuana had anything to do with it," says Balko.

Law enforcement officials in Washington State report no detectable uptick in DUIs since the state legalized in 2012.

"The Washington State Patrol's numbers indicate that, despite the legalization of recreational marijuana, driving under the influence (DUI) has not measurably increased," Sheriff John Urquhart told the Huffington Post. "My experience as Sheriff, and the experience of my officers, reflects this. Some people drove impaired on marijuana before legalization, and about the same number will do so after legalization."

h/t The Cannabist, The Independent, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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