Recreational Use of Pot: Not Behind the Wheel

The push for decriminalizing marijuana—“pot”—making it available for medical as well as recreational use has gained significant and nation-wide momentum in the past year. At present, Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized pot for recreational use, but several other s have decriminalized medical marijuana. Missouri has some of the toughest laws on the books regarding marijuana use of any kind. Bills introduced during the 2013 legislative session to legalize medical marijuana and to reduce penalties for adult possession were met by aggressive opposition from House leadership and ultimately failed to advance.  Undeterred, Show-Me Cannabis, an association of organizations and individuals seeking to decriminalize pot usage, are trying to get a petition on the November 2014 ballet asking Missouri voters to legalize pot usage for adults, 21 years of age and older.

Effects of Pot Usage and Driving

While many Americans, including myself, have serious doubts about the effectiveness of this nation’s long and costly “war on drugs”, I am nevertheless disturbed by the increasing frequency with which I hear casual characterizations of pot as “harmless”, particularly in comparison to alcohol, being thrown around.  To be clear: this is not about whether I support legalizing pot: my concern—my sole agenda—as a personal injury lawyer is that we portray pot and its physical effects responsibly, in accurate and credible terms.

Like alcohol, pot is a mind-altering drug, capable of impairing cognition and motor function. The way in which it affects each individual varies widely, but one fact remains clear: it should neverbe combined with driving. Besides alcohol, pot—or more precisely, its active ingredient, THC—is the most common drug found in the blood of impaired drivers. Pot affects a person’s motor functions, including coordination and balance, as well as cognitive acuity—judgment, perception, ability to focus and maintain attention and reaction time. Findings from numerous driving studies over the past decade provide incontrovertible evidence that marijuana negatively impacts the brain’s ability to draw and apply information learned from past experiences, and when combined with alcohol, greatly magnifies impairment.

Accurate statistics on pot-related motor vehicular accidents are hard to come by due to the inconsistency with which blood tests are administered and the frequent presence of both alcohol and THC in the blood of impaired drivers, making it difficult to gauge which of the two was more responsible. However, a recent review of findings compiled from several studies concluded that using pot more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident. Another study examining 3,000 fatally-injured drivers found the presence of THC in a driver’s blood was a significant predictor of fault. Furthermore, higher levels of THC rendered a driver much more likely to have been responsible for causing the accident.

Balancing Rights with Responsibility

Legalization of any activity confers certain rights as well as responsibilities. Casual portrayals of pot depicting its use as “recreational and harmless” do a grave disservice to otherwise well-intentioned efforts to decriminalize harsh and unproductive laws. They may also have the inadvertent effect of downplaying the risks of driving while under the influence of pot, especially among teenagers who as a group represent the most vulnerable, least experienced and highest risk-takers on the road.

As personal injury lawyers, we encounter the tragic consequences of impaired driving every day. This is why we seek an honest and balanced approach to discussing the controversial topic of legalizing pot. Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our clients and community. For further information, call one of our Top 100 Trial lawyers at: 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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