The National on CBC-TV tonight had a good investigative report on marijuana and how, in states such as Washington, police are dealing with drivers under the herb’s influence. (Yes, they call it a drug, but it is an herb . . . I digress.)
Why is Canada’s national broadcaster probing this? Because the new federal Liberal government promised during the recent election campaign to legalize marijuana if they were elected.
As one grieving man said in the report: The Liberals have not addressed the safety issue. The man lost his child in an automobile accident in which the driver at fault was alleged to be stoned on pot.
So, the CBC’s question was, essentially: how much pot does one have to consume to be considered too impaired to drive a motor vehicle?
The American experts interviewed in the report talked about THC levels in the blood, and some numbers were mentioned. But as more than one person countered, those levels might be meaningless — you could still have a high level of THC in your blood the day after you smoked it, even though your head is no longer affected, i.e. not stoned.
So, how should police determine if one is too stoned to be driving?
Well, I can only speak from personal experience, and maybe authorities need to hear from some of us older hippie types who used to smoke the stuff but have given it up. I haven’t had a joint since late 2008, but I was a pretty regular toker before that. My rule was never to drive stoned, so I only toked when I got home from work.
Pot is not like alcohol: you can have a class of wine or a beer and not be impaired. But I know from experience that a couple of hits of a joint is enough to get you pretty buzzed these days, what with all the hydroponic strains of weed out there. And you simply shouldn’t be driving under those circumstances.
So, my suggestion to the authorities: One should not drive on the same day or night they have had some pot. It’s not too much to ask.
But there is another issue authorities should consider: secondhand pot smoke. If joints are being passed around at a party, it is quite possible that abstaining designated drivers might get buzzed, too.
I know a lot of people will disagree with me, because a lot of people smoke pot and drive. Some say pot makes you more cautious when driving, and you drive slower. But the statistics from the U.S. in places where pot is legal seem to indicate that the numbers of accidents involving people under the herb’s influence are rising.
That is cause for concern. One can only hope that Canada’s Liberal government will thoroughly study the issue and that firm safety guidelines will be in place before marijuana is legalized.
This is an issue being discussed in nearby states, Vermont and Massachusetts, currently, too. Vermont was supposed to have a legalization debate in the Legislature this year, but that may be on the back burner now. Massachusetts is possibly going to have a referendum question, about legalization, on the ballot this Fall, after a similar question was defeated in 2014 or 2012. I know in both places policymakers, both elected and appointed, are concerned about being able to determine a person’s level of intoxication, especially in a roadside stop by police, but also I imagine in hospital emergency room situations too. I think police are not confident there is a test which is able to be administered at a traffic stop, like a breath-alizer would be used for alcohol-intoxication, which is reliable and would stand-up in court. Everyone is looking to Colorado, and many in Vermont and Massachusetts are glad that this wasn’t an issue where their state was quite as pioneering as they had been on other issues in the past because they can see the difficulties encountered by the states where legalization is already in place.
In Massachusetts, where they have de-criminalized small amounts of marijuana, there is a noticeable increase in public use, (i.e. quite a haze in the air in lots of public places around Boston these days,) I’ve observed people smoking in parking lots a good deal, too. I remember seeing one young man come out of a supermarket where he worked, probably at the end of his shift. He stood by his car and smoked a joint for several minutes, and judging from the smoke which wafted my way this smelled like pretty potent stuff. He then got in his car and drove away. I had the same concern that I would have if I’d seen someone down 2-3 beers in an equivalent amount of time and then get behind the wheel.
Just over 20 years ago, when I was on my town’s volunteer ambulance service, we had a car accident involving a guy in his early 20’s who smoked and then dozed-off behind the wheel, crossed the center-line and hit another vehicle head-on, killing the father of two young children who was returning to his kid’s school event after going home to get a camera. The ensuing trial resulted in a hung-jury, partially due to uncertain evidence about the driver’s intoxication. The case was tried a 2nd time, and resulted in the young man being sentenced to at least 15 years in prison. I still remember that day well, as well as the difficulty of watching the drawn-out trials, and I’m sure the children of the man who died that day, who now are probably nearly in their 30’s, can never forget any of this, either.
Although I do believe marijuana should be treated much the way alcohol is, legal and regulated, due diligence is certainly in order wherever legalization is being considered.
Yes, it is a sad fact: many, many people toke and drive. And many people toke from the moment they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night. Basically, stoned all day, in the workplace, on the roads, etc. I’m talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation and some that followed. There is no way to know how many accidents were caused by people under the influence of pot over the years.
Personally, when I smoked pot, I liked to zone out, listen to music and/or write etc. And the times I did smoke pot early in the day — when friends were around and offered it to me — I found it ruined my day. I couldn’t go out and do things because I felt impaired. No way I would drive a car in that state. It’s totally irresponsible.
So, maybe we need a strict rule: no driving for, say, 12 hours after you last toked.
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