In March 2021, New York state legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana. If you are an adult, you can now smoke marijuana publicly anywhere smoking tobacco is permitted.
Has this negatively impacted road safety? Did the state of New York unleash a beast? Is the new marijuana law a ticket to drive when high on marijuana?
Whenever we hear about driving under the influence, we invariably think about alcohol.
Every time we enlist safe driving tips, we insert the point about the need not to drive when drunk.
Indeed, even the traffic cops focus on alcohol, which is why they usually only carry breathalyzers to test your alcohol level.
Things are now changing; as we will found out, a New York traffic officer can now search your car for marijuana if he smells something like it.
But can marijuana use also impair your judgment while driving and lead to tragic mistakes? That is, is stoned driving as dangerous as drunk and drive? Half of the marijuana users are confident that they can always drive safely while high. Are they right?
On the other hand, most Americans (70% to be exact) believe stoned driving is less of a problem compared to drunk driving. Are they wrong?
Marijuana has always been the most widely used illegal drug in the United States. In short, Americans officially rejected it. However, the stone the builders rejected is now becoming their cornerstone.
Marijuana use has been legalized in some states either for recreational or medicinal purposes. Some other states are likely to follow suit, and so the future looks bright for pot.
Can Marijuana Use Impair Your Driving Abilities?
Yes, and No, based on the statistics. It has not been exhaustively proven how cannabis-related impairment can interfere with your driving. No data or research has shown that marijuana users cause more accidents than non-users.
None other than the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that your chances of causing an accident after using marijuana are significantly lower than a drunk driver.
According to a 2017 study, there has not been an increase in fatal traffic collisions in the states where marijuana has been legalized. However, another study attempting to find the relationship between marijuana use and driving ended up with contradicting results.
In Colorado, where pot use is legal, the study (by The Highway Loss Data Institute) found a 12.5% increase in collision-related claims after the legalization.
Surprisingly, the same organization applied the same methodology in Oregon but found no observable increase in accidents.
So, the jury is still out on if marijuana use can lead to more accidents in the states where it is legalized.
In Canada, there was no increase in traffic incidents related to driving when high, six months after marijuana use was legalized.
How Are Stoned Drivers Tested?
Testing or proving that a driver is too stoned to drive is not as straightforward as testing alcohol levels in the drivers. States like Colorado have come up with guidelines to define cannabis impairment.
The set standard is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. For starters, THC stands for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.
This is a cannabinoid molecule in marijuana (cannabis) and has long been recognized as the substance that causes people who use marijuana to feel or get high.
But there is a problem with this standard: impairment is not always proportionate to blood THC concentration. Again, the test is quite complicated compared to the alcohol test; with marijuana impairment, the driver has to provide a blood or saliva sample.
Another complication is that, unlike alcohol, THC can stay in your bloodstream for weeks after you ‘stoned’. That is, the test can show you are stoned even when you are not feeling high anymore.
This has made testing drivers high on cannabis to be challenging. The police are yet to develop a foolproof, reliable tactic to catch truly impaired, stoned drivers.
Is It Dangerous To Drive When Under The Influence Of Marijuana?
No data conclusively shows that marijuana use leads to more accidents, but that is no license to drive your car when you are under the influence of cannabis — at least not in the state of New York.
What Does New York Marijuana Law Say?
Under the newly minted New York marijuana law, only adults over 21 years can use marijuana in public. However, ‘in public’ does not include your car. It is still illegal to drive your car when you are under the influence of marijuana.
If found driving while under the influence of cannabis in New York, you can be charged under Vehicle And Traffic Law Section 1192(4). The section criminalizes operating any vehicle when impaired by the use of a drug. Marijuana is one of the drugs cited in Section 1192 (4-a).
The same law states that should there be any reasonable grounds to believe that you are driving under the influence of bhang, a chemical test of your urine, blood, breath, or saliva can be carried out.
Unlike in Colorado, where we saw a standard that includes the amount of THC that constitutes impairment, in New York, there is no minimum amount of THC that a driver should maintain to avoid being charged. Any amount of THC in your system is enough grounds to have you charged with driving under the influence of marijuana.
That means it does not matter when you took the marijuana; it could be two or three days, but as long as it is detectable in your blood, you are deemed still stoned dead.
Wrapping It Up
While the statistics may point to something else, in New York the law is still rooted in the simple, straightforward premise that marijuana use can make you noticeably impaired, and this can interfere with your judgment to some extent.
As a driver, you can make wrong, dangerous moves while driving under the influence of marijuana. That is the point in NY. So, although marijuana has been legalized, it has come with a trap for drivers who use it.
As an adult driver, make the right decisions, bearing in mind what the law says. The same law that lets you use cannabis will punish you if it catches up with you when high on the road.
It is high time you joined Pierre Paul Driving School to pass your road test with high marks. We are right here in Brooklyn, New York.