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Is driving high a problem in states where marijuana is legal?

Driving while high on marijuana

As more and more states like California legalize the recreational use of marijuana, drivers face potentially life-altering decisions about getting behind the wheel of a car after they've used cannabis. Our attorneys discuss impaired driving and emerging legal issues.

Some disturbing numbers

While research shows using marijuana, like drinking alcohol, impairs motor skills, cognitive function, and other driving abilities, it is unclear how long the impairment lasts.

Current estimates range anywhere from 2-24 hours. That means drivers could have a lengthy period where they can be accused of driving under the influence. Regular marijuana users can test positive for the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, days later. That is long after they are no longer impaired.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is so recent – California approved it in 2016 – that information about its contribution to car accidents is incomplete. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though, says data shows crashes increased in states that legalized recreational marijuana.

Most alarming is that 60% of drivers who legally use marijuana admit to driving under its influence. They believe they can judge their own level of impairment, which is like when someone who has been drinking makes the choice to get behind the wheel of a car because they feel OK to drive.

This happens despite the fact that nearly half of the drivers using marijuana – 47% – admit feeling some amount of impairment.

Some disturbing myths

About 33% of marijuana users believe their state’s marijuana driving laws are effective. So, it’s no surprise that these same people believe many of the misconceptions about getting behind the wheel after using marijuana.

  • One popular myth is that police do not have an accurate way to test whether someone is driving under the influence of marijuana. The fact is, all police need is evidence that your driving ability is impaired. Police can make this allegation in a number of ways. Were you driving erratically or breaking other laws? Are you unable to pass roadside testing of your reflexes? And so on.
  • Similarly, despite what many people believe, you can be convicted of DUI even though marijuana is legal. Again, the police officer who pulls you over does not care about the legal status of pot. They only care that you were driving in a manner that presented a potential danger to yourself or others.
  • A prescription for medical marijuana is not a defense. You can still be convicted of DUI, just like people who drive under the influence of prescription medication. Keep in mind people convicted of DUI can face major penalties, including a suspended license, jail time, mandatory safe driving classes, and fines.

Fighting the numbers and the myths

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by someone driving under the influence of marijuana in California, you may have a hard time holding the responsible driver accountable. The laws are relatively new and untested by the legal system. The approach to enforcement varies among law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the courts.

In most cases, the driver who caused your accident is more likely to blame you than to accept responsibility. You may also be pressured by insurance companies to accept a financial settlement that is far less than what you need or what you're legally allowed to recover.

The personal injury attorneys at Clancy & Diaz, LLP have been handling cases just like yours in Walnut Creek, Antioch, and throughout the East Bay for over a decade. Our dedicated legal team will treat you with the compassion you deserve while aggressively pursuing justice and a fair financial settlement. Protect your rights and let us fight for you. Contact us today for a free case consultation.

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