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Effects of Pot On Driving

Mark Mandell, Esq.

As the jazz lyric goes, "everything old is new again," and it is fitting that the line comes from that genre, given that musicians and aficionados of the one true American form of music are thought to be among the first in America to tune into pot. The herb, whose medicinal use dates back to China, circa 2700 B.C., is making a big comeback in the U.S., having been made illegal here in 1937.

Cannabis also is known as marijuana (and untold other slang versions). There are more than 480 chemical compounds found in the plant, and one of them is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It is THC that renders the psychoactive effects of the drug, and when exposed to the brain may cause:

  • Alterations in vision and judgment that result in distortions of time and space
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Extreme variability of mood
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Paranoid reactions and psychoses that may last for hours at a time.
  • Greatly diminished motor coordination
  • Inability to maintain focus and attention

It is not a stretch, then, to state that a driver high on weed represents danger both to himself, and those whom he encounters on the road. It also is not hyperbole to say that this threat grows larger, all the time. So, to learn that the number of those who drive while high is increasing should surprise no one who has a finger on the pulse of our popular culture.

According to a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) national roadside survey of weekend nighttime drivers, 8.3 percent had some alcohol in their system, and 12.6 percent tested positive for THC - up from 8.6 percent in 2007. With more states joining the list of those that allow for the use of marijuana, it is sure that those numbers have increased, and will, for the foreseeable future, continue to grow.

It is no secret that governments on every level are taking steps to trim their own budgets, and one way in which they do so is to outsource the operation of their correctional facilities. As a result of their increasing size, firms that operate these facilities now have considerable financial and political clout, and they are not shy in taking steps to enhance both of these. Now, the tail wants to wag the dog. As a means to do this, the powerful corrections industry now lobbies legislatures to make criminal more marijuana-related acts, along with possession of lesser amounts of the drug.

With regard to many facets of how it deals with the matter of marijuana, the legal system is still in uncharted territory. Accurate and reliable forms of testing, and fair and just sentencing guidelines are but two unresolved matters. This is a growing problem for cops and courts, given that, as of this writing, 29 states and the District of Columbia allow for medical use of marijuana, and 11 states and D.C. allow for its recreational use.

Moreover, it took decades to arrive at the standard measurement of .08 blood-alcohol content observed by most states. At present, no such baseline exists with respect to marijuana, and it would be reasonable not to expect one, any time soon.

As a society, we are about to experience a sea-change in how we recreate, heal ourselves, and police each other. How we navigate this will require the wisdom of Confucius.

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