As cannabis becomes increasingly legalized across the country, laws governing the use of the substance while driving will likely follow suit. Yet while the jury is still out on the effects of cannabis use on driving ability, that has not stopped states from implementing their own laws surrounding the practice – and for a healthy amount of fear-mongering to have already taken place.
Research on driving and cannabis
Multiple studies have been conducted in the last several years on whether the use of cannabis impairs driving ability, with many having found that greater access to cannabis actually improves road safety.
One federally-funded study – conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Office of National Drug Policy, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – found cannabis to not have much of an effect on driving ability, other than impairing a driver’s peripheral vision.
The study even went so far to claim that current laws regarding the level of THC allowed in a person’s system are unfair since high levels of THC in the body last far longer than the substance’s intoxicating effects.
Far from impairing a driver’s ability, one study found that cannabis actually had the opposite effect: A 2015 study conducted in Australia found that the greater acknowledgment of the risks of driving by those who smoked cannabis may have led them to be even safer and more cautious when behind the wheel.
The seeming correlation between cannabis and safer roads does not stop there. Research published last year by a team from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that states that allowed for greater access to medical cannabis registered lower traffic fatalities.
According to a statement released by Silvia Martins, the leader of the study, the results pointed to the likelihood that individuals in those states in which medical cannabis was legal were swapping out alcohol for cannabis.
We found evidence that states with the marijuana laws in place compared with those which did not, reported, on average, lower rates of drivers endorsing driving after having too many drinks.
Because different states in the U.S. have different laws regarding cannabis use, it would follow that different states handle the issue of driving under the influence of cannabis, well, differently. That being said, it remains illegal across all fifty states.
States in which cannabis is most legal – such as Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, all of which allow for the legal recreational use of the substance – still have laws on the books against using the substance before or during driving.
For example, first-offenders in Colorado found guilty of a DUI face nine months of having their license suspended, as well as up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. They may also be required to complete community service.
Laws in Washington state are a bit less strict: The state may impose a fine of up to $5,000, between 24 hours and one year in jail, and up to 90 days of driver’s license suspension.