Getting high for free sounds like good volunteer work to me. That’s what some lucky volunteers got to do to show law enforcement what marijuana impairment looks like. The aim is to help police find drivers that are driving under the influence of marijuana.
This article will review how the study went down and what was revealed.
There is no doubt that legislation is lacking when it comes to determining if someone is driving high. Unlike a DIY where you can be convicted if you have a BAC of .08 and higher, there’s no similar ‘per se’ statute for cannabis testing.
Also, marijuana impairment can’t be detected with a breathalyzer test. You can only test for it via a blood or urine test. However, these tests will only reveal if you have cannabis in your system. They cannot accurately determine if you were high at the time you were driving.
As a result, law enforcement is trying to come up with better ways to determine if a person is driving with marijuana impairment. Scientists are currently working on developing a cannabis breathalyzer. However, they are facing challenges because the THC molecule that gets you high on marijuana is more complex than the ethanol molecule that gets you high on alcohol.
But despite difficulties, scientists are working to develop a marijuana breathalyzer that’s portable and easy to use. They currently have a prototype made but it is large and requires an expert to run it.
There is no saying how long it will take to develop a breathalyzer that’s usable. In the meantime, law enforcement in Montgomery, MD is conducting a study to better determine the signs of marijuana impairment.
The driving labs focused on volunteers who are medically certified to consume marijuana. They got high and allowed law enforcement to assess their behavior.
During the study, the officers learned how cannabis affects drivers as opposed to how alcohol affects drivers. They were given the chance to explain and demonstrate how marijuana impairment can negatively affect someone’s ability to operate a motor vehicle.
“I think it’s very cool. The more people are educated, the better communities get along. The more the people who are hired to protect us, the more they know, the more protected we will be,” said cannabis user Cat Szafran.
“Because if police are educated, they are going to do a variety of stops and arrests that aren’t realistic,” another volunteer weighed in.
“This is a great opportunity for us to really enhance our deployment out on the road and our proactive ability to identify impaired drivers by cannabis,” a police officer said.
Recreational marijuana will become legal in Maryland on July 1. However, driving under marijuana impairment is illegal in the state. The study will help local law enforcement get prepared for what is ahead.
Maryland is not the first state to conduct a study to determine signs of marijuana impairment on driving. A similar study was conducted in Missouri back in 2021. Its aim was to determine, not only if a person had used cannabis, but if they were actually impaired.
During the study, volunteers engaged in many telling activities such as a nine step walk and turn and a one leg stand.
They also were asked to follow the officer’s finger with their eyes. Intoxicated people’s eye may jerk when they move horizontally. While marijuana use may cause the jerking, experts warn that this is not an accurate way to determine intoxication.
Results revealed that all volunteers were deemed safe to drive after smoking. However, officers were grateful to get more information regarding the relationship between cannabis and driving.
It should also be noted that driving with marijuana paraphernalia in the car is cause for arrest. Drivers may also be taken in if an officer smells marijuana on their breath.
How Bad is Driving Under Marijuana Impairment?
So how bad is driving under marijuana impairment really? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol plays a greater role in fatal crashes, but 25% more cannabis-impaired drivers are involved in accidents as opposed to sober drivers.
Scientific studies have shown varying results. For example, driving simulator studies showed that marijuana impairment can result in a lack of eye movement control, brake latency, and weaving. Drivers who drive on marijuana also tend to drive slower and allow more headway between themselves and the driver ahead of them, which maybe a good thing.
However, a 2001 study that was not simulated showed no difference in drivers driving with marijuana impairment and sober drivers.
Generally speaking, the effects of marijuana on driving were less consistent and less pronounced than the effects of alcohol on driving.
The struggle to determine the effects of marijuana impairment while driving continues. While studies are being conducted, they may not get anywhere until a portable breathalyzer is developed. In the meantime, I’m sure the volunteers are having a lot of fun being involved in these studies!