Pubdate: Thu, 20 Aug 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Bob Young


MARIJUANA Half the drivers with active THC in their blood also were 
under the influence of alcohol.

Marijuana use appears to have increased as a factor in deadly crashes 
last year in Washington.

New data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission shows the 
number of drivers involved in fatal crashes with THC in their body 
increased from 38 in 2013 to 75 this past year. About half those 75 
drivers had active THC - the main psychoactive chemical in pot - 
above the level that legally determines intoxication.

"We have seen marijuana involvement in fatal crashes remain steady 
over the years and then it just spiked in 2014," said Dr. Staci Hoff, 
the commission's research director, in a statement.

Commission staff aren't sure why.

One obvious reason is that state-regulated pot stores opened in 2014, 
providing access to legal weed. But the first few stores didn't open 
until July, and their supply was scarce. Seattle, allotted 21 stores 
by state officials, saw only one shop selling pot until late September.

What's more, there were more marijuana-involved fatal crashes in the 
first half of 2014, before stores opened, than in the second half of the year.

There are other confounding factors. Half the drivers with active THC 
in their blood also were under the influence of alcohol, and the 
majority of those were legally intoxicated.

The newly released data also doesn't account for prescription drugs 
in the marijuana-positive drivers in fatal crashes.

"We're not saying A equals B," said commission spokeswoman Shelly 
Baldwin about the link between fatal crashes and marijuana use. 
"We're saying this is a factor. We look for trends and this is a 
trend we're seeing." A follow-up report in September should provide 
more detail, she said.

THC is commonly detected in two forms. It can be the active kind, 
delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which has an intoxicating effect and 
dissipates quickly. Or it can be the inactive kind, carboxy-THC, 
which remains in your system for days, even weeks, but isn't 
intoxicating at that point.

If active THC exceeds 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, that's 
enough to convict a driver of DUI notwithstanding other evidence.

Previously, the commission knew that 2014 saw an increase in the 
number of marijuanainvolved fatal crashes. But it didn't know if the 
drivers had active or inactive THC in their blood.

Researchers went back into the individual cases to determine the kind 
and level of THC in the fatal-crash drivers.

The new data seems to indicate that more Washingtonians feel 
comfortable driving after consuming pot, Baldwin said. The 
commission's preliminary analysis suggests it is not safe to drive 
while high, she said, as some consumers believe.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom