Driving While Stoned: The Penalties and Gray Area in Marijuana Law

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As of November 2017, some 29 states had legalized marijuana for medicinal use. By 2018, eight of those states will allow the recreational use of pot, too. Add in the millions of Americans who smoke weed illegally and you have a small army of stoned individuals hanging out in public at all hours.

At your local bar or drum circle, that’s not a problem. On the other hand, when driving your kids home from school, you don’t want to run into a guy who just took a round of bong hits. Likewise, marijuana users need to know the risks they face if they get behind the wheel high. State penalties for stoned driving are mostly as harsh as they are for drunk driving. Nothing kills a buzz like 120 days without your license or $1,500 in fines.

However, there is no “pot breathalyzer” yet, and officers usually need special training necessary to otherwise judge intoxication via weed. Overall, confusion reigns, and the arrests of people who hadn’t used marijuana before driving have made the situation worse. Here’s what everyone needs to know about pot and driving, down to the gray areas in the law.

1. The risks of driving while high

While there is agreement among scientists that driving under the influence of marijuana creates a more dangerous situation, there is no consensus of just how much danger. A 2016 paper from the Society for the Study of Addiction found the increase in crash risk “of low to medium magnitude.” That assessment scaled back some of the hyperventilating following the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Even government agencies have a hard time saying how marijuana affects motorists. In February 2015, NHTSA released a study on alcohol and drug use among drivers. Once again, they found clear evidence of impairment among drunk drivers, down to the degree. Drug users proved harder to gauge. “At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment,” the report concluded.

Source: Driving While Stoned: The Penalties and Gray Area in Marijuana Law

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