Will Marijuana Legalization Make The Roads Unsafe? Police Fear It Will

It turns out it’s actually hard for the police to detect people driving while stoned. With more states voting for marijuana legalization, law enforcement officials are bracing for more hazardous streets, but their tools seem limited.

In Massachusetts this year, entrepreneurs have been introducing the state’s first medical marijuana. Combined with the legalization of pot amounts under an ounce and the possibility of an outright legalization, the state’s streets are likely to become home to far more easy riders. Yet, police still feel under prepared for pulling over high drivers. A. Wayne Sampson of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Assocation said,

“Driving under the influence of marijuana is extremely hard to prove, unless the officer observes some type of egregious operation, and is able to either detect (marijuana) through odor or other visible evidence.”

It turns out that breathalyzers are just for alcohol.

Nevertheless, it’s still not entirely clear how much marijuana legalization will contribute to road fatalities.

Studies show that the marijuana reduces reaction speed, peripheral vision, and multi-tasking abilities, which means that a stoned driver is less likely to be able to react quickly in an emergency situation.

Still studies on crash risk seem inconclusive. Some say the crash risk is doubled, others say it’s unaffected. The advantage of being high versus being drunk appears to be that stoned drivers maintain better judgement than drunk drivers, and ultimately attempt to compensate for their condition by driving slower. Some might say stoned drivers are paranoid drivers, and that the paranoia provides some safety.

In the state of Washington, which voted for legalization in 2012, there was a 25 percent increase in the number of drivers under the influence of marijuana. Yet, there was no corresponding increase in the amount of fatal car accidents.

Another study from the National Safety Council researched the effects on DUI driving from the medical marijuana legalization from 1992 to 2009 across 13 states. That study found that only three states had an increase in fatal crashes from people testing positive for pot use, California, Hawaii, and Washington. And even those increases seemed to be temporary.

Nevertheless, police are preparing for the worst, or at least many departments would like to. Jonathan Adkins, executive director of Governors Highway Safety Association, said,

“We don’t know enough about the scope of marijuana-impaired driving to call it a big or small problem. But anytime a driver has their ability impaired, it is a problem.”

Will more marijuana legalization make the streets unsafe? At this point, it’s difficult to say.

[Image Credit: United States Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons]