A lot of states are going to be voting this November on whether or not to legalize marijuana. Regardless of how you feel about the potential change in the laws, there are some serious issues that come alongside of the drug being even more widely available and accessible. As we have already seen in Washington and Colorado, drivers that are inebriated because of marijuana use are currently not able to be tested the same way that drivers under the influence of alcohol are. Well, that may all be about to change with new devices currently being tested that can breathalyze for THC in the same fashion as those for alcohol.
Concern for Stoned Driving
The concerns surrounding the consequences of stoned driving are not unfounded. Say what you will about whether or not marijuana is worse than alcohol – but driving under it’s influence is dangerous. In fact, 2015 saw 12% of it’s DUI citations involving marijuana in Colorado. This number is small too – without effective current testing measures, it is very difficult for officers to conclusively prove that someone is actively under the influence of marijuana while driving. Washington has seen an increase too, with 33% of DUI’s in the state involving marijuana in a driver’s system, up from 19%. These are scary statistics and there is a good chance that they will only increase as access to marijuana becomes more widespread and social attitudes continue to shift towards it being more accessible. It is important to remember how much stronger marijuana is today than years ago (and how many more individuals are entering treatment for it’s abuse, often with serious life issues as a result).
There have already been deaths as a result of drivers intoxicated with marijuana. So with the increase of marijuana related DUI’s even without adequate testing tools, the announcement that technology will be catching up is welcome news.
Real Time Marijuana Detection
The company creating the device is called Hound Labs and the device is the first of it’s kind to be implemented by law enforcement. Instead of guessing about current intoxication, the device allows officers to actually test whether or not someone is currently under the influence of the drug. This will be a much needed addition to the tools of law enforcement!
The Legalization Vote
The new technology is coming right in time for the legalization votes that are taking place in multiple states this November. While there are arguments on both sides of the fence, the reality is that social attitudes towards marijuana use are becoming more and more permissive, regardless of what happens when the ballots are counted. California needs to be ready when this happens. Understanding that legal or not, driving under the influence of marijuana is still intoxicated driving is something that needs to happen, especially for a lot of young people. There is a false belief that while stoned, driving is not impaired. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The news has quietly been being filled up with more and more stories of individuals driving under the influence of marijuana to fatal effect.
While everyone has the ability to make a statement about their beliefs surrounding whether marijuana should or should not be legalized with their ballots, we also have a responsibility to start removing dangerous and inebriated drivers from the road. This is an issue of public safety, not a debate about the merits or problems surrounding legalization. It doesn’t matter what you think about marijuana on a policy level – if there are stoned drivers on the road, we will continue to see a rise in accidents, injuries and fatalities.
A Small Step
While the invention of this new breathalyzer is a step in the right direction, we need to begin further discussion about what is going to be happen and the ways that we are going to keep our state safe moving forward. This is a conversation that should happen regardless of the vote in November. Waiting to talk about the consequences of stoned driving until after the vote will put California, and the other involved states, in a dangerous position.