STORIES

Driving Stoned vs. Driving Drunk

By David Jenison on February 27, 2017

The National Safety Council (NSC) released its latest driver safety poll last month, and 42 percent of the respondents expressed "major concern" that legalization would increase stoned driving. Another 34 percent categorized their concern as minor, 24 percent were not concerned at all, and nine percent admitted that they drove after consuming medical cannabis in the previous month. How does this compare to other substances? Ninety-six percent expressed concern (78 percent of it "major") for drunk driving, while 17 percent drove after taking an opioid like oxycodone, hydrocodone or morphine. 

The survey suggests that alcohol remains a larger concern than cannabis, as it should, but law enforcement has a more difficult time limiting cannabis-impaired driving because science has yet to develop an effective way to test drivers. The problem is that fat-soluble cannabis can stay in the system for weeks, and current tests do not show when the consumption occurred. A person who smoked the day before would not still be stoned, and defense lawyers can effectively exploit this technological gap in the courtroom on behalf of their clients. 

O’Neill Moon Quedado, a law firm in Toronto, Canada, notes that drivers pulled over on suspicion of impairment must go through several tests, starting with a breathalyzer, to check alcohol, drug, cannabis and prescription medication levels. What exactly are the laws, limits and potential punishments? It varies by state and country, but the law firm produced the following infographic to help explain the general laws in the U.S. and Canada:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found "no significant increased crash risk attributable to cannabis," and other studies suggest drivers are generally more careful and attentive after cannabis consumption, thus balancing out any impairments. However, drivers should minimize any substance use (alcohol, cannabis, prescription drugs, smoking, eating) when driving for the sake of public safety, and PRØHBTD strongly advises against driving stoned. Still, the desire to reduce risk on the roads does not justify an overall cannabis prohibition. By comparison, texting/driving causes 1.6 million automobile accidents each year and a 23-fold increase in accident risk, yet law enforcement does not arrest people for sending text messages from their living rooms. 

Street art by Eduardo Kobra

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