Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Laws Are Useless, Says Study

Politicians who like to talk tough on public safety issues seem to think tough “drugged driving” (DUI – Marijuana) laws will make us all safer. However, the facts indicate that such laws do not reduce traffic fatalities, and law enforcement already has laws in place to arrest and remove impaired drivers by any substance from the road.

According to a new study from economists with the University of Colorado and Montana State University (hardly biased entities), these per se drugged driving laws do not influence traffic deaths.

Police Car LightsEleven states have passed zero-tolerant per se drugged driving laws since 1990. They make it illegal to get behind the wheel with any detectable amount of any controlled substance in the body.  Five other states have passed laws specifying legal limits for these controlled substances. The federal government, for their part, supports the zero-tolerance laws. Many politicians do too. And if you ask the general public, there’s a good chance that they would support them as well. But, the new research says they simply don’t work.

“Despite the fact that these laws have been touted by politicians and academics as an effective strategy for making our roadways safer, we find no evidence that they reduce traffic fatalities,” said the authors of the study.

Washington passed a per se drugged driving law along with their legalization initiative in November. Colorado is now poised to do the same thing. And these laws are already present in states where marijuana is still considered illegal.

As with drunk driving laws, many say the truly effective way of keeping the roads safe is to penalize the bad driving, the action, not the behavior that may or may not lead to the action. In other words, a drugged driving who is driving responsibly is far less dangerous than any driver who is driving recklessly.

In the case of marijuana, as our friends at NORML explain:

Operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis is already a criminal offense in all 50 states. However, in order for one to gain a criminal conviction under most state DUI laws, prosecutors must prove that a motorist recently ingested cannabis and that doing so prohibited him or her from driving safely.

The drafters of the Colorado legalization initiative had serious questions about the science of per se THC levels in the bloodstream, which is why it was left off the document. It is a shame that state is now backtracking.

As marijuana legalization expands (we hope!), you can expect this trend to increase. Those who are against legal cannabis use will try to use zero tolerance driving laws as a back door prohibition. This is exactly what Mothers Against Drunk Driving has become, prompting the founder of MADD to walk away from their crazy neo-prohibitionist direction.

Charges of driving under the influence of marijuana still are relatively rare compared to drunk driving under the influence of alcohol—in part because it is more difficult to detect and prove. And for that reason, when they do arise, DUI Marijuana charges are often beatable in court.

As politicians use all kinds of (false) rhetoric to fan the fire of the War on Drugs, we’ll keep on providing the other side of the story.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

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