Driving Under the Influence of Legal Drugs: Marijuana and Driving

The recreational use of marijuana — as well as the drug’s cultivation and sale — was legalized in California in 2016. Cannabis legalization in California (along with other states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada) has shifted attitudes about its safety. What was once considered a dangerous “gateway drug” (and is still federally classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin) is now the central component of a growing industry which includes medical prescriptions and wellness products. Despite the now more widely recognized benefits, there is still one gray area when evaluating the safety and legality of marijuana use: Driving while high.

Of course, people have used marijuana and driven long before it was legalized, and the new laws have not changed the prohibition of driving under the influence of any drugs. Drunk and drugged driving is extremely hazardous and a top cause of accidents.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for police to truly detect and gauge the impact of driving under the influence of marijuana. Unlike blood alcohol content which can be identified with a breathalyzer test, there is currently no system for immediately testing the presence of cannabis in a driver’s system. Weed also doesn’t affect coordination in the same way that alcohol does, so relying on standard sobriety tests (such as a walk and turn field assessment) to see if a driver is high are generally ineffective. Plus, marijuana compounds are stored in the fat cells and can be detected up to weeks after the initial use, meaning traditional drug tests are unable to pinpoint if marijuana was even in use while a person was driving.

Data on DUI cases showed an increase in drugged driving offenses in Los Angeles County between 2017 and 2018. The Orange County Register reported that “drug-related DUI cases nearly quadrupled,” during that time, however, the data includes all drugs, not just marijuana. Orange County’s DUI drug testing procedures do distinguish the presence of marijuana and showed a six percentage point increase in “drivers who died in crashes [with] only marijuana in their systems” between 2016 and 2018. But, the detection of marijuana could be attributed to past marijuana use and doesn’t necessarily indicate that the drug was a factor in those accidents.

California is quite new to the legal cannabis world and needs to dedicate to improving marijuana DUI testing methods to keep its residents safe.

If you were injured in a motor vehicle collision, contact Chung & Ignacio, LLP today. Our experienced attorneys represent victims of car accidents, including those involving DUI. Call (909) 726-7112 or send us a message to schedule a free case evaluation.