Pubdate: Wed, 18 May 2016
Source: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Freedom Communications


Proponents of marijuana legislation often purport its safety over 
legal drugs, particularly alcohol.

"I'd rather someone get behind the wheel stoned than drunk," more 
than one person has opined.

The notion is cringe-worthy. Impaired is impaired and driving that 
way is dangerous, potentially deadly, whether it involves alcohol, 
marijuana or prescription medication.

Unlike alcohol, though, where plenty of scientific data is available 
to support at what point a person becomes intoxicated, the science is 
iffy on marijuana.

That's why it's best Illinois not try to draw a line in the sand over 
marijuana impairment until a correlation can be made.

The legislature, presumably in an effort to counter the legal use of 
medicinal marijuana, wants to set a standard based on the level of 
THC - tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive ingredient in 
marijuana - in a person's bloodstream.

That works just fine with alcohol. A person is legally too impaired 
to drive at a blood-alcohol level of 0.08. That standard is accepted 
because it takes into account a person's height, weight and other 
criteria that can be factors in intoxication. Through years of study 
and testing, it has been determined what happens to judgment and 
reaction at that stage.

That's where marijuana differs from alcohol, experts now say. Even 
low levels of THC in a person's system might cause problems with 
judgment and reaction. But the effects are different from person to 
person. And unlike alcohol, marijuana is not quickly excreted from 
the body, which means it can be stored in fatty cells and detected 
for several days .. long after the mind-altering effects have dissipated.

Groups such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National 
Highway Traffic Safety Administration have come out against blanket 
regulations based on the level of THC in a person's system.

AAA, the nation's largest automobile club, commissioned a study on 
the matter and said last week blood tests are unreliable indicators 
of whether a person is impaired. Still, a handful of states use such 
tests to determine guilt or innocence.

Mark A.R. Kleiman, a New York University professor who specializes in 
issues about drugs and criminal policy, tells The Associated Press 
that studies show using marijuana and driving roughly doubles the 
risk of a crash. Talking on a hands-free cellphone while driving, 
which is legal in all states, quadruples the risk of a crash and 
having a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 raises the chance of an 
accident about 15 times, he said.

A noisy child in the back of the car causes as much danger as using 
marijuana and driving, Kleiman told the news agency.

None of this is meant to suggest there should be no laws against 
using marijuana and driving. Actually, reports indicate there has 
been a significant increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana. A 
report looking at traffic accidents in Washington - which legalized 
marijuana in 2012 - showed the number of crashes involving marijuana 
users has doubled since then.

As more states legalize marijuana for medicinal or personal use, it 
will warrant a need for dialogue about how to balance that change 
with the safety of others on the road.

What needs to happen is for states to develop a reasoned and 
scientific approach to determining when impairment occurs. Trying to 
establish a hard and fast number based on faulty assumptions will 
create a nightmare of legal challenges, not to mention be unfair to 
those charged.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom