With the arrival of the new year, California has finally converted to a red, white and green state and legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Though medical marijuana has been legal under state law since 1996, adults over the age of 21 can now legally buy, possess and consume a maximum of 28.5 grams of cannabis from state-licensed dispensaries.
However, California law has not yet determined regulations for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for producing a euphoric-high in users, and hasn’t specified an amount that can be present in a person’s system. Because of this, there’s confusion among cannabis users surrounding how impairment is classified which puts them at risk for unknowingly driving under the influence and the consequences of doing so.
Advancements in research and technology surrounding marijuana and its effects will allow California to determine a legal limit of THC in the body. In turn, this will make DUI laws clearer and allow better regulation. But as of now, discrepancies surrounding the legal amount of THC and increased usage across the state are leading to more DUIs.
If licensed dispensaries and delivery services continue to promote the use of medicinal marijuana then recreational use will only continue to rise, especially in U.S. colleges and universities. Alcohol and marijuana are the two most popular substance choices among college students with 52 percent of individuals ages 18 to 25 reporting first time use, a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows.
Students often fail to recognize the possible hazards that come with marijuana use. Using marijuana and alcohol together is associated with adverse cognitive functions such as impaired critical decision-making, decreased concentration and memory impairment, according to the Public Library of Science.
These cognitive impairments affect not only a student’s ability to stay attentive in class, but also their ability to operate a vehicle.
People’s thoughts and misconceptions surrounding marijuana use may differ from the current laws and reality. For instance, under federal law marijuana is still considered a controlled substance and has to be regulated like any other drug.
Many assume DUIs are limited to alcohol, but anyone driving under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter medications (this includes medical marijuana) cannot legally drive, according to California DUI Laws.
The arrest of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane in Washington (a state that had legalized recreational use) on Jan. 14 perfectly exemplifies this. Though he had a blood alcohol level of .039, he was arrested because police suspected that he was impaired due to the combination of marijuana and alcohol in his system.
This begins to create a hazy area for many marijuana users because, depending on the method of consumption, it affects people differently. THC may take time before going into effect, and can end up in one’s bloodstream hours after ingestion, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
New cannabis users may experience adverse side effects, but with regular cannabis users it may be harder to tell.
This discrepancy is why some people have questioned the validity of state laws. Unlike blood alcohol content, which is tested by breathalyzers, pot doesn’t have a similar effective method to analyze how much is in someone’s system.
But driving under the influence of any substance is still illegal and until the technology catches up, marijuana enthusiasts need to be aware that even minor usage can lead to a DUI.