Marijuana is legally available, at least to some degree in almost every state. Despite that, it’s still not a great idea to drive while high.
As most of you well know, TFL hails from the state of Colorado. And boy, does our home state have a great many things to offer. Sunshine, scenic mountain vistas, skiing, fishing, and awesome off-road trails. It’s all practically right outside our front door. Ah, but that’s not what comes to mind when I first mention Colorado, is it? At least not today. How come today is different? Because today is 4/20, and its a special day.
What makes 4/20 special? It all goes back to the early 1970s, when a group of California high school students jumped in their car – a 1966 Chevrolet Impala, no less – and burned one down after school at 4:20 P.M. Now, thanks to The Grateful Dead, the term caught on throughout the American counterculture, and to date has been used as a shorthand for cannabis.
A little over four years ago, we legalized marijuana here in Colorado, after passing an amendment in 2012 to allow for recreational use. Two other states, Washington and Oregon, passed similar amendments around the same time. Now, contrary to what some may have believed at the time, Colorado didn’t disappear under a cloud of pot smoke. Instead, there’s a new industry in the state, as well as a new avenue of tourism. However, there is one important issue to cover: driving under the influence of marijuana.
How many people drive under the influence of marijuana?
Now, nine states have currently legalized marijuana for recreational use: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Most of the country has legalized it, at least to some extent, for medical use. Only Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas still prohibit its use entirely on a state level. As a result, a growing number of people have access to marijuana in some form. That said, states where marijuana is totally legal strongly urge against driving under the influence. Whether marijuana has the same consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol is an arguable one, but it’s always better to lean on the side of caution.
Data gathered from a “Cannabis Conversation” survey undertaken by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), showed how many, out of more than 7,000 respondents, admit to driving while high. Nearly half admit to doing it at least once a month, while more than a quarter do it almost daily.
Fortunately, in a similar vein to alcohol, most people in the survey also stated they do consume less of it if they know they’re going to drive. According to the same data, 70% of respondents also know that you can, in fact, get a DUI if the police catch you driving high.
Stepping up enforcement
And they most likely will, as even legal states, like Colorado, step up their patrol efforts on days like 4/20. So too have local cannabis businesses joined together with organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and Colorado State Patrol to combat impaired drivers. The message is one of moderation and responsibility:
“So far in 2018, Colorado State Patrol has investigated more than 100 cannabis-related driving fatalities in Colorado. As a community, we need to keep our friends, families, and complete strangers safe from making bad choices about consuming and driving. Even one [fatality] is too many.” – Native Roots, local dispensary chain
Accident claims increase in states with legal marijuana
Unfortunately, collision claims have increased in states where marijuana is legal, according to a recent study. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) published a study last year, where they found claims have increased by at least 3% in legal states. In Colorado, the figure was much higher, as collision claims went up 14% from 2012-2016, since marijuana was decriminalized and retail sales began. In many cases, it’s the scenario where drivers think “it can’t possibly happen to me”. I got into an accident a couple years ago – a minor one, fortunately – where I slid my car into a freeway divider on an icy road in the middle of winter. Although I wasn’t high at the time, but I think I’m a pretty good driver, and as a result went a bit too fast around a corner. I tried to correct, until I went into the rail.
Like I said, the damage was minor, but there’s always a lesson to be learned there. Yes, it can happen to you. It could have been worse, and that’s not something you want to have on your conscience, particularly if marijuana or alcohol are involved. Colorado State Patrol agrees, and they’re taking a pretty cool approach about it: “We’re not saying don’t do it, but be prepared. Don’t get behind the wheel impaired. Have some type of plan in place.” Whether that’s ride-sharing, getting a lift from a friend, or trying to stumble your way home, it’s all good. Although you might end up on Instagram or YouTube with that last one. Just don’t get behind the wheel.
What to do instead? Walk, ride-share, and the tried-and-true DD
Hey, if you’re looking to spark up some chronic to celebrate 4/20, more power to you, so long as you consume it legally. In most states, that means you need to be 21 or older and hold a medical card, in states where only medical marijuana is legal. In every state where it’s legal, it is still prohibited to drive under the influence of marijuana. So, as we at TFL would strongly advise with alcohol, just don’t do it. Alcohol and cars don’t mix, and neither does marijuana.
Fortunately, you do have options to get around if you plan on indulging this 4/20. Ride-sharing companies like Lyft are offering discounts in states where marijuana is legal for consumption. If that option’s out for you, you can always rope in a designated driver. Whatever you do, just make sure you consume responsibly and take care for your own safety and the safety of others. That way we can all live to drive another day.