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With Pot Legal, Police Worry About Traffic Safety

Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) writes | about 2 years ago

Transportation 13

Hugh Pickens writes writes "AP reports that with Pot soon legal under state laws in Washington and Colorado, officials in both states are trying to figure out how to keep stoned drivers off the road as law enforcement officials wonder about whether the ability to buy or possess marijuana legally will bring about an increase of marijuana users on the roads. "We've had decades of studies and experience with alcohol," says Washington State Patrol spokesman Dan Coon. "Marijuana is new, so it's going to take some time to figure out how the courts and prosecutors are going to handle it. But the key is impairment: We will arrest drivers who drive impaired, whether it be drugs or alcohol." Marijuana can cause dizziness and slowed reaction time, and drivers are more likely to drift and swerve while they're high and Marijuana legalization activists agree people shouldn't smoke and drive. But setting a standard comparable to blood-alcohol limits has sparked intense disagreement because unlike portable breath tests for alcohol, there's no easily available way to determine whether someone is impaired from recent pot use. If scientists can't tell someone how much marijuana it will take for him or her to test over the threshold, how is the average pot user supposed to know? "A lot of effort has gone into the study of drugged driving and marijuana, because that is the most prevalent drug, but we are not nearly to the point where we are with alcohol," says Jeffrey P. Michael, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's impaired-driving director. "We don't know what level of marijuana impairs a driver.""

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Can the police use google? (1)

pev (2186) | about 2 years ago | (#41991245)

One of the first hits :
    http://www.canorml.org/healthfacts/drugtestguide/drugtestdetection.html

Blood tests are a better detector of recent use, since they measure the active presence of THC in the system. Because they are invasive and difficult to administer, blood tests are used less frequently. They are typically used in investigations of accidents, injuries and DUIs, where they can give a useful indication of whether the subject was actually under the influence.

Sounds pretty clear to me...

Re:Can the police use google? (2)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#41992015)

Clear, but invasive. You find the same thing with alcohol. A breathalyzer is considered non-invasive, so it can be done "in the field" with a lower level of probable cause. I don't know this for certain, but given that it involves taking a blood sample, I believe blood tests require the alleged drunk driver to be taken to a lab for testing, as opposed to in-the-field. I believe this also calls for a higher level of probable cause, including the breathalyzer result. One complication is that alcohol is removed from the system relatively quickly, so in the time it takes to get a lab test done, the level may have fallen from where it was when impaired driving was observed.

With THC there is no equivalent to the quickie breathalyzer test, so blood testing would be required in all cases, and the whole probable cause thing becomes tougher. On the mitigating side, I believe THC persists longer than alcohol, so at least that aspect may be gone.

I've said "I believe" a fair amount, at the very least to separate impression and hearsay from something more solid. That doesn't necessarily mean, "dismiss out of hand" to those items, though. At least I wasn't declaring all of that stuff as hard facts.

Re:Can the police use google? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41992641)

With THC there is no equivalent to the quickie breathalyzer test, so blood testing would be required in all cases, and the whole probable cause thing becomes tougher. On the mitigating side, I believe THC persists longer than alcohol, so at least that aspect may be gone.

Incorrect - http://www.buzzle.com/articles/mouth-swab-drug-test-facts.html [buzzle.com]

Mouth swab drug test information and results can be obtained within 15 minutes which leads to quick analysis and interpretation of the test results

Granted, the test is limited by the fact it can detect substances taken as far back as 3-4 days, but it sure beats a blood test when it comes to invasive-ness and speed of result generation.

Re:Can the police use google? (1)

mk1004 (2488060) | about 2 years ago | (#41996595)

The only issue as far as I can tell is that the swab test only measures the presence of a drug, not how much. So you can't determine a level of impairment as you can with a BAC test.

Re:Can the police use google? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41996695)

The only issue as far as I can tell is that the swab test only measures the presence of a drug, not how much. So you can't determine a level of impairment as you can with a BAC test.

"Determine level of impairment" would require a standard for how much THC is allowed to be present in the bloodstream to be "under the legal limit."

Developing said standard would likely require years of R & D, not to mention the bureaucratic red tape that is intrinsic to this sort of thing.

Treating it the same way we do alcohol, i.e. developing a standard measurement system, would be the right thing to do. Unfortunately, judging from the tone of the interviewees, I'm fairly certain they just want something they can put in place fast and start generating revenue from, civil liberties and due process be damned.

You know how fast potheads drive! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41992909)

I don't see how driving 5mph constitutes a safety issue.

Re:You know how fast potheads drive! (1)

schwit1 (797399) | about 2 years ago | (#41993557)

Speed means little when the pothead runs you over or pulls out in front of you.

Re:You know how fast potheads drive! (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about 2 years ago | (#41993677)

Speed means little when the [bad driver|drunk|moron|meth head|person not paying attention|pothead] runs you over or pulls out in front of you.

There. FTFY.

Not much of a sense of humor over at your place, eh?

Field Sobriety Tests? (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about 2 years ago | (#41992935)

Unfortunately, we've become too dependent on medical-ish types of tests to determine impairment. Since there's no viable analog to the breathalyzer to determine if someone is under the influence of marijuana on-scene, perhaps we should make greater use of field sobriety tests to determine impairment.

Unfortunately, those tests are somewhat subjective. However, use of video recording during tests should provide for more objective analysis after the fact.

The longevity of the chemical signatures of marijuana use in blood and urine makes these tests worse than useless in a traffic stop or accident situation.

I suspect that over the longer term we'll develop test regimens that are both non-invasive and accurate. But for now, using physical coordination and reasoning tests are probably the only viable way to test for impairment, IMHO.

Re:Field Sobriety Tests? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41996879)

Granted it's not at all scientific, but as a person who mis-spent a good portion of their youth hanging out with "the bad crowd," I can personally attest that the negative, dangerous effects of being stoned behind the wheel are negligible at best.

Posting AC for obvious reasons.

Re:Field Sobriety Tests? (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about 2 years ago | (#41997673)

Granted it's not at all scientific, but as a person who mis-spent a good portion of their youth hanging out with "the bad crowd," I can personally attest that the negative, dangerous effects of being stoned behind the wheel are negligible at best. Posting AC for obvious reasons.

Perhaps that's true for you. That's not necessarily true for everyone. While NORML [norml.org] has gathered quite a few studies which agree with your hypothesis, many [insideline.com] other [colostate.edu] studies [bmj.com] show [druglibrary.org] that driving skills are moderately impaired [wiley.com] and that the addition of even a small amount of alcohol can severely impair [nhtsa.gov] driving skills.

As to your anecdotal experience, let me respond. I've done more drugs in both variety and quantity than most people. Likely including yourself (not trying to get into a dick waving contest, just putting my bona fides out there). I've found that different people respond differently to marijuana and its derivatives.

Many (perhaps most) people, assuming a fairly common dose of 300mcg/kg, are both aware of their impairment and are able to successfully compensate for it. Some people will, OTOH, be severely impaired and/or be unable to compensate for that impairment.

Just because you can compensate doesn't mean that you're not impaired, it just means that as long as you're not thrust into a situation where all your faculties are required you will likely not be a danger on the road. Which may not happen. Until it does.

it's interesting to note that the just about all the studies cited by NORML as well as the studies I mentioned agree that being high does impair you. Also, even very small quantities of alcohol significantly increases the amount of impairment experienced. Smoking a bone with a couple of friends may not result in significant impairment, but having a couple of beers too may result in severe impairment.

In any event, IMHO it's a poor idea to drive when impaired at all. Unfortunately, driving is required to get just about anywhere at least in most parts of the US.

I am all for the legalization of marijuana for recreational, medicinal and whatever other use we can find for it. It's effects are generally harmless and is significantly superior to alcohol and other drugs in so many ways.

That said, I am emphatically not in favor of people driving while impaired -- be it from alcohol, marijuana, meth, psilocybin, LSD, being tired, pissed off, talking on the phone, texting or anything else that can reduce your ability to operate a machine weighing 1,000lbs or (likely) more at *any* speed.

Re:Field Sobriety Tests? (1)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about 2 years ago | (#42064435)

I think it is very important to note that everyone seems to agree on one thing, myself included: combining pot with alcohol impairs you more than just doing one or the other. I also think it is interesting to note how often this is used as an argument against pot legalisation, but almost never as an argument in favour of alcohol prohibition.

If I were to say that we should ban alcohol because someone might drink and also get high and then drive, no one would take me seriously. I think we should keep that standard consistent. Yes it is important that everyone be aware that it is very dangerous to do, but the suggestion that we should lock people up for smoking weed because of irresponsible alcohol users just wrong.

Re:Field Sobriety Tests? (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about 2 years ago | (#42067527)

I think it is very important to note that everyone seems to agree on one thing, myself included: combining pot with alcohol impairs you more than just doing one or the other. I also think it is interesting to note how often this is used as an argument against pot legalisation, but almost never as an argument in favour of alcohol prohibition. If I were to say that we should ban alcohol because someone might drink and also get high and then drive, no one would take me seriously. I think we should keep that standard consistent. Yes it is important that everyone be aware that it is very dangerous to do, but the suggestion that we should lock people up for smoking weed because of irresponsible alcohol users just wrong.

You're preaching to the choir, my friend.

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