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Taking The 'High' Road

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On: Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 2:42PM | By: Karen Cook


Taking The 'High' Road

Given the current question of whether or not to legalize marijuana, it’s no surprise that studies are now being done to determine the effect this drug has on driving ability. At this point 18 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and 30% of the country has decriminalized possession, and recreational use, of pot. Predictions are that another 10% will do likewise by the end of the year. The question is how dangerous is it to drive stoned and how do we enforce laws against it?

A recent study done by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University is attempting to answer these questions. (What a mailman has to do with public health is beyond me, but there it is.) The study covers the years of 1999–2010 and the data was pulled from California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia—due to the policy of these states to run toxicology screenings in all fatal traffic accidents. These accidents included 23,500 fatalities. Researchers found that 40% of the deaths were alcohol related and that number did not fluctuate over the time period. Drugs were found in the bloodstreams of 16% of the drivers in 1999, but climbed to 28% by 2010. The study did not break down the kinds of drugs found, which covered everything from legal or prescription painkillers to heroin and cocaine, but it did pull out the percentages of marijuana. In 1999, THC (the chemical found in marijuana) was found in 4% of drivers and by 2010 rose to 12%.

Analysts believe that if this trend continues, drugs will be more deadly on the roads than alcohol by the end of this decade.

It is difficult to determine what part drugs actually played in the traffic accidents. This is especially true for marijuana. Alcohol stays in the bloodstream a very short time and it is easy to see if a driver was under its influence while he was behind the wheel. Pot on the other hand stays in the blood for weeks after its use, long after it has ceased to affect the user. Washington has determined that its legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood has no effect whatsoever on the ability to operate a motor vehicle.




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