Marijuana funk no longer probable cause to search people; Maryland appeals court cites Bob Dylan in ruling

Marijuana funk no longer probable cause to search people; Maryland appeals court cites Bob Dylan in ruling
Police officers in Maryland can still search your car if they small marijuana during a traffic stop, the state’s highest court ruled, but they can’t search you unless they find evidence beyond simple possession of the substance. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Citing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin,” Maryland highest court ruled this week that the smell of marijuana alone is not enough justification for law enforcement to search a person.

The 7-0 Maryland Court of Appeals opinion differentiates between the necessary level of probable cause that law enforcement must obtain to search a vehicle and what it needs to search a person.

Police still can use the smell of marijuana as justification to search a vehicle, the opinion said. But they can’t search anyone in the vehicle unless they find evidence of a crime, not even if police find a small amount of marijuana.[See Also] Maryland’s plan to diversify medical cannabis market attracts 160 applicants for 14 new licenses despite snags »

“The same facts and circumstances that justify a search of an automobile do not necessarily justify an arrest and search incident thereto. This is based on the heightened expectation of privacy one enjoys in his or her person as compared to the diminished expectation of privacy one has in an automobile,” the court wrote.PAID POSTWhat Is This?

The opinion comes five years after the state legislature decriminalized marijuana possession of 10 grams or less. Such small amounts are considered a civil offense, not a criminal offense, and can result in a citation that carries a $100 fine.

The ruling is a sign of the changing landscape for marijuana, something the justices noted — somewhat playfully — by placing Dylan’s famous lyric in a notation at the very top of their order.

The opinion stems from the arrest and search of Michael Pacheco who, on May 26, 2016, was sitting in a parked vehicle in Wheaton with a marijuana joint when he was approached by two Montgomery County Police officers. Officers testified that they smelled “fresh burnt” marijuana, found Pacheco seated in the driver’s seat alone, and a marijuana cigarette in the vehicle’s center console, the opinion said.

Officers ordered Pacheco out of the car, searched him and found cocaine in Pacheco’s “left front pocket.” Then they searched his car where they found a marijuana stem and two packets of rolling papers. He was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it. He also was given a citation for possessing less than ten grams of marijuana.

Pacheco moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing it was an illegal search of his person because officers lacked probable cause to believe he possessed ten grams or more of marijuana. But prosecutors argued the marijuana odor provided probable cause to search both the vehicle and Pacheco, the opinion said.

Pacheco entered a conditional guilty plea, which still allowed him to appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. He lost at that level when the court found the officers did have probable cause. But the Court of Appeals said the lower court’s opinion largely relied on “pre-decriminalization cases.”

Pacheco’s search and arrest “was unreasonable because nothing in the record suggests that possession of a joint and the odor of burnt marijuana gave the police probable cause to believe he was in possession of a criminal amount of that substance,” the opinion said.

Pacheco’s trial attorney, Richard A. Finci, praised the ruling, saying the court’s opinion mirrored his own argument.

“Evidence of possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana is not probable cause for arrest and therefore a search is not lawful,” he said in an interview.

But Finci said he believes the court also should find that the odor of marijuana is not sufficient justification to search a vehicle.

“I think it needs to go further,” he said, noting that odor of alcohol alone doesn’t warrant the lawful search of a vehicle.

In a separate, concurring opinion, judges wrote that the court’s latest opinion is “reasonable and thoughtful” but limited.

The concurrent opinion said officers still must be allowed to search a vehicle if they smell marijuana. 

“In particular,” they wrote, “it may be evidence of: possession of 10 grams or more of marijuana, possession of the drug with the intent to distribute, or the operation of a vehicle under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.”

An officer in similar circumstances to the Pacheco case “will be duty-bound” to investigate whether the individual could be driving under the influence, the court said.

“In many situations involving those circumstances, the officer will have probable cause — which (this Court has agreed) “is not a high bar” — to arrest the individual for that offense,” the concurring opinion said.

The concurring opinion cited vehicle crashes “linked to marijuana-impaired driving rose by nearly 40 percent” between 2017 and 2018.

A spokeswoman with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state in Court of Appeals cases, did not respond to a request for comment.

Drug use caused crash that killed truck driver and passenger, Coroner rules

Coroner Elizabeth Ryan of the NSW Coroners Court has concluded that Cameron Bloomfield (29) and his partner, Meaghan Bird (27), died as a consequence of drug use that caused driving impairment. That led, in turn, to their heavy freight vehicle, a prime mover and two trailers fully laden with flammable chemicals, to leave the road, roll over and catch fire.

Bloomfield’s driving was likely impaired owing to the effects of the methylamphetamine that he had consumed. Both Baird and Bloomfield had “toxic to lethal” levels of methylamphetamine in their post-mortem blood samples.

Bird died directly as a result of fatal head injuries when the truck rolled over. Bloomfield died directly because of inhalation of smoke as the truck caught fire when it rolled.

Both Baird and Bloomfield died in a single vehicle crash on the Pacific Highway on the mid-north New South Wales coast on April 10, 2014.

On April 8, 2014, Bloomfield, accompanied by Baird, were driving the 936 kilometer (582 miles) Brisbane-Sydney route on behalf of Archerfield Transport & Storage, a sole proprietorship owned by Allen Mark Aitchison. Archerfield owned a freight depot in Brisbane. Aitchison directed the use of heavy freight trucks and scheduled operations.

Bloomfield and Baird arrived in Sydney early in the morning of April 9. During the day, Bloomfield was contacted “several times” by Aitchison during “what was supposed to be his seven hour continuous rest break”.

Bloomfield, again accompanied by Baird, started off from Sydney en route for Brisbane at about 20:30pm.

The vehicle, a 2005-built prime mover, was towing two trailers and was hauling a load of corrosive chemicals, paint thinners and other flammable and hazardous materials.

A witness stated that at 03:00am, about 175 miles to the north east of Sydney, Bloomfield’s truck overtook his car. The witness saw the car drive off the left side of the road, fall over, and slide. The cabin caught on fire and spread to the trailers.

Police and other emergency services arrived to find “the cabin and trailers were engulfed in flames. The heat was intense and aerosol cans from the load were exploding into the air”.

It took firefighters at least two, to two-and-a-half, hours to put the fire out before the two bodies were retrieved.

Forensic examiners were unable to say why the vehicle left the road. There was no evidence of braking or sharp turning, which would suggest the truck was out of control. There were no other vehicles. There was no evidence of mechanical defects in the prime mover or the trailers.

The post-mortem examiner discovered “toxic to lethal” levels of methylamphetamine in the blood samples of Baird and Bloomfield. A specialist toxicologist concluded that they had ingested the drug within “a few hours” of their deaths. In her opinion, the toxicologist believed the drug could have contributed to the crash by impairing the driver’s ability or it could have caused the driver’s death by coma, respiratory depression or a fatal heart attack.

The Coroner accepted the conclusion that a toxic-to-fatal level of drugs in Bloomfield’s blood explained the loss of control of the truck.

It was also considered whether fatigue had any role in the crash.

A week before the fatal crash, Baird’s parents visited the couple at their home. Baird was apparently worried that Bloomfield was “so exhausted” from driving that he might fall asleep at the wheel, according to Baird’s mother. She also described a dinner with Bloomfield who complained of being exhausted from work. The coroner also noted that there were statements from people in contact with Bloomfield on the day of the crash saying he looked tired or that he had been complaining of a lack of sleep.

Following the crash, Aitchison and various others at the freight depots in Brisbane and Sydney were charged, tried, convicted and fined in relation to fatigue related offenses. These included failing to take all reasonable steps to ensure that business practices did not cause Bloomfield to drive while in breach of work-rest hours; there was no system to check the work diaries of drivers; there was no fatigue management training for drivers; there was no use or monitoring of in-vehicle GPS systems; there were no trip plans that allowed drivers to complete trips other than within strict time limits. Truck loaders were charged with failing to take reasonable steps to ensure Bloomfield did not driver while apparently fatigued.

BEHIND THE WHEEL: Special Investigative report examining marijuana and DUI

AUBURN, Ala (WRBL) The deadly crash that killed the Voice of the Auburn Tigers – Rod Bramblett and his wife Paula, followed by the arrest of a 16-year-old on a manslaughter charge- is forcing our community to confront issues regarding suspected Marijuana DUI.

On July 1st – Auburn Police arrested 16-year-old Johnston Taylor on warrants charging him with two counts of manslaughter. 

Court documents say a blood sample taken from the teen after the crash contained T-H-C – indicating “recent” use of marijuana.

The electronic data recorder from Taylor’s Jeep Laredo alleges he was accelerating from 89 miles an hour to 91 miles an hour – with no braking – when it rear-ended the Bramblett’s SUV on May 25th in the deadly crash along Shug Jordan Parkway. 

The legal system will decide if the teen was impaired while behind the wheel that night.

News 3 Investigative Reporter Elizabeth White spoke with one of the country’s foremost experts on marijuana-impaired driving.

Chris Halsor spent eight years as a Denver prosecutor and more recently as Colorado’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, where he provided impaired driving training for law enforcement and prosecutors.

“I just so happened to start that job when medical marijuana really took off in Colorado, so I was sort of very early on jumping on the subject of marijuana impaired driving for the better part of the last decade and have really invested myself into developing expertise in that area,” said Halsor. 

Halsor is now in private practice – and founder of Understanding Legal Marijuana, LLC, where he trains state and local governments considering or dealing with legal marijuana initiatives.

“I always try to hold myself out as the objective rational actor. I don’t take an advocacy position on weather it’s a good idea or  bad idea, I just present the facts,” said Halsor.

Our first question for Halsor focuses on how toxicologists determine recent use of marijuana. 

“There is a test, Elizabeth, you can utilize to determine whether somebody has recently utilized marijuana. There are different metabolic markers out there so some would assert that THC would remain in the system up to 30 days.  In fact there is a biological marker that can test for that either in blood or urine, so that itself my not be dispositive.
However, if you give somebody a blood test and you test for what’s called DELTA 9 THC, the active impairing ingredient in marijuana then in fact you might be able to establish to a degree of certainty that a person had recently consumed or otherwise ingested THC. Different studies have established that dissipation rates for at least smoked marijuana might be two or four hours,” Halsor responded.

Halsor says driving under the influence of marijuana is just as dangerous as driving drunk or any intoxicating drug.

Halsor believes marijuana impairment can vary depending on the individual – and the type ingested. 

He says research indicates the most common impairments are short term memory lapse, inability to navigate curves, failure to recognize stops and speed limits. 

Halsor stated, “Speed, interestingly enough, in several studies is regarded as one of the tell-tale clues. Popular conventional wisdom suggests that somebody under the influence of marijuana may be driving slow, but the data and statistics actually suggest speeding is more likely to be common and attached to marijuana use.”

In Alabama, medical and recreational use of marijuana is illegal. Although, in June of this year, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill creating an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to study the effects of medical marijuana. 

Haslor says with more states legalizing the use of marijuana for medical and or recreational purposes, he urges the community to educate themselves – above and beyond a Google search.

News 3 spoke with Johnston Taylor’s defense attorney out of Birmingham.

Attorney Tommy Spina said: “There are no words I could say, on behalf of my client and his family, that would adequately express the remorse and contrition this child and his family feel for the loss caused to the Bramblett family as a result of this tragic accident.”

Spina says Taylor had not smoked marijuana and was not impaired at the time of the crash. 

The attorney maintains Taylor fell asleep at the wheel and remembers nothing of the crash.

A preliminary hearing was set for July 31st – which Taylor’s attorney tells News 3 he is waiving, so the case will automatically go to a Lee County Grand Jury.

Count on News 3 to continue to follow this important story for you.

How high is too high? 5 years after legalization, Colorado struggles to test marijuana impairment for drivers

As more Coloradoans smoke marijuana, legislators and law enforcement officials have struggled to develop sobriety tests that accurately determine when someone is too high to drive. 
Shutterstock / Stock photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In 2014, when recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, Matt Karzen, an assistant district attorney in Routt County at the time, noticed a lot of criminal cases coming to his office involving drivers arrested on suspicion of driving stoned. 

It was the first time such cases had gone through local justice system under the laxer laws, and he was not sure how they would play out in court. So, his office brought a case in front of a jury as a sort of litmus test for convicting high drivers.  

The case involved a man pulled over in Steamboat Springs for having a dirty windshield. It started as a routine traffic stop for driving with obstructed vision, but law enforcement officials noticed the man behaving strangely. Resulting tests showed he did not have alcohol in his system, but he was over the legal limit for marijuana. 

When jurors reviewed body camera footage and reports from law enforcement, they weren’t convinced the tests proved beyond a reasonable doubt the man was impaired.  

“The guy was acquitted in about five minutes,” Karzen said. 

As marijuana becomes more widely used across the state, much uncertainty remains about how the drug impairs the body and at what point someone becomes too high to drive. A lack of clarity and research has made it difficult for law enforcement officials to test for marijuana impairment during traffic stops and for the courts to convict people accused of driving high. 

According to current state law, people can be prosecuted for driving under the influence if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the cannabinoid in marijuana that causes its coveted psychoactive effects.

But marijuana users, particularly those who partake regularly for medicinal purposes, worry they would test over the legal limit, even when they are not impaired. 

Trends in marijuana use

A recent report from the New York Times investigated the legacy of the last five years of legal marijuana in the state and found, more than anything, the drug has become a more commonly accepted part of life for Coloradoans. 

About twice as many residents smoke marijuana compared to the rest of Americans.

During a June session of the Steamboat Springs Police Department’s Citizens Academy, which teaches the public about the work of local law enforcement, officers said they have spoken with many people who think it is OK to drive stoned. This worried officer Lisa Wilson, who does not want a lower perceived risk to cause accidents.

As she explained, “If you feel different, you drive different.”

According to a 2018 study from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the number of highway deaths involving drivers with marijuana in their system has nearly doubled since legalization, with 75 deaths in 2014 and 139 in 2017. 

But, the number of drivers involved in a fatal crash who tested over the legal limit for marijuana — that 5-nanogram threshold — has decreased sharply in recent years. In 2017, 35 drivers in such accidents were over the legal limit, down from 52 in 2016.

As the study advises, “The presence of a cannabinoid does not necessarily indicate recent use of marijuana or impairment.”

Cannabinoids have a stubborn way of sticking around in people’s fat cells, meaning someone could test positive for the drug, even over the legal limit, days or weeks after they smoked. This is especially true for frequent users.

“People can be heavily saturated with THC in their system and not be under the influence,” Karzen said.

Concerns among marijuana users

Larisa Bolivar admits to using marijuana almost every day. The executive director of the Cannabis Consumer Coalition, based in Denver, Bolivar has been an advocate for the drug long before it became legal. 

The Washington Post, in a 2014 article, called her “one of the city’s most well-known proponents of decriminalizing marijuana nationally.” In 2004, she visited Steamboat to advocate for a cancer patient who was facing charges for using medical marijuana, which was legal at the time. 

Fifteen years later, she is seeing a similar, enforcement-heavy approach to nabbing people suspected of driving high, despite a lack of certainty for testing impairment. 

As Bolivar explained, many marijuana users, especially those consuming it daily and at higher doses for pain management or other medicinal purposes, will have large amounts of THC in their blood but not feel or act impaired. 

“I haven’t consumed (marijuana) today, but I can guarantee you I have more than 5 nanograms in my system,” she said. 

As someone who drives on a regular basis, Bolivar is always concerned she could be cited for a DUI even if she does not feel or act impaired.  

“That is a very scary thought, and it’s totally unfair,” she said. 

Sobriety tests for marijuana

Local law enforcement officials tend to agree with people like Bolivar, arguing the current science on marijuana impairment often does not reflect reality. Nor do they see it as a new issue.

“This challenge has been around as long as cannabis has been consumed,” Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen said of measuring a person’s intoxication.

As he explained, field sobriety tests for alcohol have been researched and standardized over decades. Dating back to 1977, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has honed the tests to such an extent that recent studies report accuracy of 91% to 94%.

“We have a lot of experience with drunk drivers,” Christensen said. “We know what that person looks like, and you can smell it.”

Much less researched and certain are sobriety tests for marijuana. Law enforcement officials usually employ two methods to test for any kind of drug impairment. One way is to ask the driver to undergo a blood test to determine if they are over the 5-nanogram limit. 

Some agencies also have drug recognition experts who have been trained to evaluate a driver for substance impairment. Several local troopers with Colorado State Patrol have the certification and are able to assist other law enforcement officials with roadside sobriety tests specific to drugs. Many of the criteria for impairment seem similar to alcohol, such as the one-leg-stand test. 

Drug recognition experts use this form to determine if someone is under the influence of substances other than alcohol.
Source: Drug recognition expert seven-day instruction course

Hugh Carey /

Other considerations, such as redness in the eyes, could be the result of other, non-drug related conditions, like allergies or irritation.

“There is no go-to tool that is considered reliable across the board to determine if someone is impaired by marijuana,” Karzen said. “Right now, we’re just stuck with body camera footage and an officer’s assessment.”

Most such cases result in a plea deal, according to Karzen. Drivers usually plead guilty to driving while ability impaired, or DWAI, which is a traffic infraction — not a crime. It typically results in a fine and the revoked driving privileges for 90 days, a laxer sentence than for DUI offenses. 

In many instances, people suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana also have an illegal amount of alcohol in their system, according to Karzen. If that is the case, prosecutors typically pursue a DUI conviction solely for alcohol because jurors feel better-versed at recognizing when someone is drunk.

Need for new tests and laws

What all of this points to is a need for more accurate measures of marijuana impairment, something state lawmakers are trying to accomplish through legislation. 

One bill proposed during the 2019 Legislation Session would have thrown out the 5-nanogram threshold and given law enforcement full discretion in determining impairment through field sobriety as well as blood tests. 

It faced strong backlash before lawmakers postponed it indefinitely in February. 

Complicating the issue is the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal, so conducting accurate, legal research on how the drug affects the body has proven difficult. 

With no changes for the foreseeable future, Karzen has been advising prosecutors in his office to be prudent in pursuing DUI convictions for marijuana, and to limit convictions to cases in which people showed obvious signs of impairment.

 “I’m very uncomfortable proceeding with a criminal prosecution on impaired driving based only on the 5-nanogram limit,” he said. 

For an example, he alluded to a scene in the cult classic, “Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke,” in which the two, red-eyed stoners get pulled over after smoking a joint the size of a salami.

Karzen chuckled at using such a reference, but those clear indications — poor driving, memory loss, marijuana smoke billowing from the windows — “those are what our prosecutors look for,” he said. 

Christensen’s officers have a similar policy.

“If drivers don’t demonstrate any signs of impairment, we don’t take any action,” he said.

Regardless of the lack of clarity on marijuana impairment, people still have an obligation to drive sober.

“There is no excuse to drive impaired in any way,” Christensen said.

Woman flees on foot after traffic stop by police, faces numerous charges including OUI alcohol and drugs

6-8-19 — Monson— A 31-year-old Connecticut woman, who fled police on Route 32 early Saturday after she was stopped on Route 32 for speeding, faces numerous charges including operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs. (Monson police / Facebook)
6-8-19 — Monson— A 31-year-old Connecticut woman, who fled police on Route 32 early Saturday after she was stopped on Route 32 for speeding, faces numerous charges including operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs. (Monson police / Facebook)

MONSON — A 31-year-old Connecticut woman, who fled police on Route 32 early Saturday after she was stopped on Route 32 for speeding, faces numerous charges including operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The incident began about 1 a.m. when Officer Tyler Wilk saw the suspect, southbound, speeding towards the downtown area, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page.

Western Mass News reported the woman got out of her vehicle after the stop and fled on foot. A state trooper was summoned to help for the suspect and she was found a short time later.

Police have not yet released the woman’s name. She is from Wilmington, Conn.

She was charged with drunken driving (2nd offense), operating under the include of drugs, operating with a suspended license (subsequent offense), negligent operation, open container of alcohol in motor vehicle, speeding, possession of heroin (subsequent offense), possession of a Class E drug and resisting arrest.

Police were assisted by a Palmer officer trained in the recognition of drug impairment. Western Mass News is television partner to The Republican.

Users of illegal ‘magical mushrooms’ could get a pass in Oakland

The city council will vote June 4 whether to bar police from enforcing cracking down on psychedelic plants

Oakland City Hall is photographed in Oakland Dec. 1, 2015.

OAKLAND — Oakland could become the second city in the nation to allow the use of psilocybin mushrooms — also known as “magic mushrooms” — following in Denver’s footsteps.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider approving a resolution barring police from enforcing laws banning the use of “entheogenic” — or psychoactive — plants, which include psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and peyote.

The proposed resolution stems from a movement at the state level to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, which suffered a setback when a measure to accomplish that goal didn’t make it to California’s 2018 ballot. Activists are gathering signatures now to put a measure on the Oregon state ballot next year to legalize the medical use of psilocybin.

Three of the four council members who make up Oakland’s public safety committee voted Tuesday to move the resolution to the full council for a vote. Supporters of the effort packed City Hall, and around 60 people — many of them psychiatrists — testified to the benefits of entheogenic plants.

“I’ve seen first-hand how these plants can heal individuals, and I really want to emphasize that these plants can also heal a community,” said Gary Kono, a retired surgeon who co-founded  Decriminalize Nature Oakland, an activist group leading the effort to legalize entheogenic plants in the city.

Council member Noel Gallo, who brought the resolution forward, said in his proposal that allowing the use of entheogenic plants would remove them from their underground status and “empower communities to share knowledge and continue building an above-ground infrastructure around entheogens.”

Oakland, he added in his proposal, “has a unique opportunity to lead by example, and guide the nationwide conversation.”

The resolution would not apply to synthetic drugs such as LSD or Ecstasy.

Larry Norris of Decriminalize Nature Oakland said in an interview that the initiatives in Oregon and Denver prompted the group to push for the resolution. It started discussing the proposal in December and pitched it to Gallo earlier this year.

Several members of Decriminalize Nature Oakland told council members of personal “life-changing” experiences that resulted from using the drugs and of how other cultures have used them for centuries to be closer to nature. Little was said at the meeting of people just using them for recreation.

“Our communities have been using natural plant medicines as they are indigenous to communities of color; they’ve been using them for thousands of years,” said Amber Senter, a local cannabis entrepreneur who is also part of Decriminalize Nature Oakland.

Council member Loren Taylor abstained from the vote Tuesday, saying although he recognizes that the drugs can benefit people in certain settings, he is concerned they also can be used unsafely and hopes to see an education effort warning people of the risks.

“It’s a matter of how we deploy it and make sure it’s not something that becomes a fad with our kids and potentially used in schools,” Taylor said, adding he’s also worried about people driving under the influence of entheogenic plants.

Oakland police officials at Tuesday’s meeting didn’t weigh in on the proposal, but noted there’s been only 19 cases over the past five years in which they confiscated a substance believed to be psilocybin mushrooms.

Several speakers mentioned a study released by Johns Hopkins University last year that suggested psilocybin could be used to treat depression and anxiety and even help people quit smoking, according to the New York Times. Bestselling author and Berkeley resident Michael Pollan’s recent book, “How to Change Your Mind,” makes the case that psychedelic drugs can be effective therapy tools, especially for people trying to recover from drug addiction.

Study: Michigan medical marijuana users are driving while high

Local officials are beginning to decide if they want medical marijuana businesses in their communities before the state starts giving out licenses next year. Wochit

Medicalweed 121516 Es06


More than half of the medical marijuana users in Michigan have driven under the influence of the drug, creating a potential for car crashes, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

The study, which surveyed 790 of the state’s medical marijuana patients, revealed that:

  • 56 percent reported driving within two hours of using marijuana.
  • 51 percent aid they drove while  a “little high.”
  • 21 percent reported driving while “very high.”

The findings were published Wednesday in the “Drug & Alcohol Dependence” journal. 

“When you are intoxicated with marijuana or you have marijuana actively in your system it can affect things like your coordination and your reaction time,” said the study’s lead author Erin Bonar, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “We know it can take several hours for its effects to wear off.”

She added: “There is a low perceived risk about driving after using marijuana, but we want people to know that they should ideally wait several hours to operate a vehicle after using cannabis, regardless of whether it is for medical use or not,” Bonar said. “The safest strategy is to not drive at all on the day you used marijuana.”

Erin Bonar , University of Michigan psychology professor and lead author of a new study on medical marijuana users.

Erin Bonar , University of Michigan psychology professor and lead author of a new study on medical marijuana users. (Photo: Daryl Marshke, UM Photography,D.Marshke)

About 270,000 people in Michigan have permission to use medical marijuana. Only California has more medical marijuana users, roughly 916,000, according to statistics.

Read more:

Too high to drive? Depends where you get pulled over

Legal marijuana in Mich.: What you need to know

Six mid-Michigan towns have banned weed businesses

And now that recreational use of marijuana has been approved by the state’s voters, the potential for high drivers and any dangers they may pose is greater. 

“We believe more research is needed to inform a larger public education effort that will help individuals understand the risks for themselves, and others, of driving while under the influence of cannabis,” Bonar said. “It is especially needed during this time of rapid policy change as many states are determining how to manage marijuana legalization. We also need clearer guidelines about marijuana dosing and side effects with an understanding of how individual differences in things like sex and body weight interact as well.” 

In its study, the U-M team surveyed Michigan adults who were seeking medical marijuana certification for chronic pain in 2014 and 2015. The researchers asked about respondents’ driving habits for the past six months.

Marijuana Use Suspected in Fatal Colorado Crash

The Colorado State Patrol says a woman killed in a single-vehicle rollover on Interstate 70 is suspected of being under the influence of marijuana at the time.

KMGH-TV reported that the crash occurred Monday afternoon near Genesee, west of Denver, and closed the eastbound lanes and one lane of the westbound lanes of the highway for several hours.

The patrol says the crash happened when the 21-year-old woman driving the car failed to negotiate a right curve, causing the vehicle to go off the left side of the roadway. The driver then over-corrected and the vehicle rolled.

Troopers say the victim was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. A second person in the car was transported to the hospital with minor injuries.

Mixed findings on Colorado marijuana, traffic deaths

Colorado Marijuana Holiday

The number of highway deaths involving Colorado drivers who had marijuana in their system grew again in 2017, a new state study shows.

At the same time, traffic fatalities in which drivers had enough marijuana in their bloodstream to be deemed legally impaired dropped sharply, from 52 in 2016 to 35 last year.

The reason for this seeming contradiction: Marijuana can remain in the bloodstream for weeks, so a positive blood test may not mean a driver was stoned at the time of a deadly crash.

As the Colorado Department of Transportation study notes, “The presence of a cannabinoid does not necessarily indicate recent use of marijuana or impairment.”

Overall, the number of fatalities involving positive tests for marijuana has nearly doubled since recreational legalization in 2014, from 75 that year to 125 in 2016 and 139 last year.

Colorado law specifies that drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a milliliter of their blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of marijuana.

A striking finding in the new study was the death toll involving people driving around with a cocktail of drugs in their bodies. In one year, deaths where drivers tested positive for cannabis, any alcohol and other drugs tripled — from eight in 2016 to 25 last year.

The report also found that drunken driving deaths had increased again. Twenty-six percent of those killed in crashes, or 171 people, had blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater, Colorado’s drunken driving limit, compared to 161 in 2016 and 151 in 2015.

Meanwhile, traffic deaths generally continued to increase on state roads, going from 546 in 2015 to 608 in 2016 and spiking to 648 last year.

CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said the department considers the number of deaths in which the driver was marijuana-impaired under state law to be the most reliable indicator of its impact on the highways.

By that measure, marijuana-related deaths are clearly down.

“Presence does not indicate impairment,” he said. At the same time, “two years does not make a trend.”

Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, welcomed the state finding that marijuana-impaired highway deaths declined last year.

She added that the industry intends to keep campaigning against smoking and driving.

“We don’t think our job is done,” she said.

Henny Lasley heads Smart Colorado, a group concerned about the effects of legalization on children.

She worries that the latest highway death statistics will be used to loosen state regulations and promote public consumption of marijuana products.

First, “The science of impairment is lacking,” she said.

“More concerning is why people are combining” marijuana, alcohol and other drugs, she said. “The combination is very concerning.”

Cole agrees.

Before fatal drug-related crashes, “drivers do tend to combine,” he said. “When you combine, it will amplify your impairment.”

Denver now cracking down on marijuana tour buses

Undercover Denver police officers stopped two buses on Friday. Officers cited 31 people who were smoking during the ride on My420 and Colorado Cannabis tour buses.

The city of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses said this week that marijuana tour buses are operating illegally, despite the drug’s legality in Colorado.

Undercover Denver police officers stopped two buses on Friday. Officers cited 31 people who were smoking during the ride on My420 and Colorado Cannabis tour buses.

One person was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs.

Eric Escudero with the Department of Excise and Licenses told 9NEWS his office has sent letters to the tour companies warning them that they are not operating within the law.

Escudero also said there’s also no legal way under current rules for these tours to become legal.

Jay Casillas, a spokesperson for the Denver Police Department, said enforcement of the laws on pot buses was complaint-driven. He did not say how many complaints they’ve received.

According to its website, My 420 Tours is “at the forefront of cannabis tourism, offering visitors a glimpse into the cutting-edge world of cannabis legalization and marijuana news in Colorado and beyond.”

Its site also says the company has been around since 2013 and offers not just tours, but cannabis vacations, complete with “420-friendly hotels” with prices that start at $1,295.

Colorado Cannabis tours range from $29 to $99. As of this writing, the website appeared to still be accepting reservations.