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California Marijuana Law Raises Growing Concerns About Drugged Driving

In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, thereby legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. When the law finally went into effect in January 2017, all California residents over the age of 21 earned the right to smoke marijuana in their private home or business without the need to obtain a marijuana card.

With more California citizens consuming marijuana than in previous years, the California Highway Patrol has reported more instances of individuals driving under the influence of marijuana or ‘drugged driving’. As a result, instances of marijuana-related car accidents are likely to rise in California.

States that had already legalized medical and recreational marijuana have seen significantly higher rates of drugged driving accidents, even as alcohol-related DUI states have declined across the country. This new trend is particularly challenging for law enforcement since they do not have the same types of tools to fight drugged driving that they have for drunk driving.

Unlike alcohol, marijuana intoxication can be more difficult to measure. The test results can be skewed by any number of variables such as the user’s gender, race, frequency of use and even method of consumption. Further complicating matters, marijuana can be detected in a person’s blood or urine for up to 30 days after use, even though the intoxicating effects only last for a few hours. This fact makes it difficult to know if the driver is currently under the influence or is testing positive due to previous use.

In addition, state lawmakers have yet to update the criminal codes to establish the legal limit marker in regards to marijuana use. Police officers currently have no way of knowing the level of intoxication even when they believe that the driver is under the influence of marijuana and that the intoxication was a factor in an auto accident or traffic stop.

Proposed legislation

California lawmakers are pushing for a bill that could make detecting drugged drivers easier. The bill, SB 1462, would allow law enforcement officers to perform an oral swab test on a driver suspected of impaired driving if that driver had already failed a typical field sobriety test. The swab test will be used to determine if marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines or other performance-impairing medication is present in the driver’s system.

Opponents to the bill claim that the reliability of the swab tests has yet to be proven; while its supporters maintain that the need for tougher legislation against drugged driving is high. In some regions of California, officers have already begun using mouth swab test kits that detect the presence of certain legal and illegal drugs, including marijuana.

Impaired driving, whether with alcohol or drugs, puts all California drivers at risk. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident resulting from an impaired driver, a personal injury attorney can help you understand your legal rights and may be able to assist you in pursuing the financial compensation you deserve.

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