Driving while high on THC? Here’s what you should know

October 16, 2019 | 6:00 am


Marijuana today has become mainstream as voters across the United States approve ballot measures for legalization and medical use. In fact, cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 10 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, and nearly three dozen states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.

As legalization continues to expand, safety officials across the country are more concerned than ever about stoned drivers taking to the nation’s roads and freeways, potentially endangering lives. But while there’s general agreement that driving while high is bad, there is not yet a linear relationship between THC levels and degree of impairment.

Read below to learn about the current state of marijuana laws as they relate to driving, ongoing studies, and what you can do to make sure we are all safe on the roadways.

 

CALIFORNIA LAW

Under California law, marijuana use and driving is still in the works. California DMV states that “the use of any drug which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.” The law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs.

California also does not have a legal blood concentration limit for THC, unlike for alcohol. That is, there is no stated level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence as a result of marijuana use.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed AB 127 into law, which provides funding and authorization for the California Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, to study the effects of marijuana-impaired driving.

“One of the open-ended questions (about legal, recreational cannabis), that is a legitimate question, is public safety on the roads,” Newsom said in a statement before signing the bill. ”

 

DRIVING WHILE STONED

Government agencies are now testing ways to ensure the legalization of cannabis doesn’t create new public health risks, including answering the question, “at what point is someone too high to get behind the wheel?” The answer is complicated.

Scientists and pharmacologists don’t know how to measure if and to what extent marijuana causes impairment. The reason is existing blood and urine tests can detect marijuana use, but those tests can’t specify whether the use occurred in the day or month. They also don’t indicate the level at which a driver would be considered “under the influence.”

For alcohol, there is a clear, national standard. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, you’re considered cognitively impaired at a level that is unsafe to drive. Extensive research supports this determination, and the clarity makes enforcement of drunken driving laws easier, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But setting a marijuana-related impairment level is a murkier proposition.

Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace, recently surveyed licensed Californian drivers who used cannabis within 30 days of responding, and here’s what they found:

  • Nearly half, 46%, who responded were unable to answer whether there exists a legal bloodstream concentration limit for THC, as there is for alcohol.
  • 81% were aware that it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
  • 62% also were unaware of the legal penalties that come with it. Like a DUI involving alcohol, they can include fines, jail time and license suspensions.
  • 82% stated that driving is the primary method by which most marijuana consumers buy cannabis
  • Almost half, 45%, reported driving after consuming the drug.
  • Of adults who consume and drive, 77% believe it doesn’t affect their driving, and 16% believe it improves their driving.
  • A vast majority said they would not do so if low- or no-cost ride-share options, or delivery, were available.

In the end, the study showed that “few know critical details about cannabis consumption and driving.”

 

BREATHALYZERS?

Breathalyzer tests for alcohol are a quick and non-invasive way to tell if a driver is drunk. Testing for stoned drivers isn’t as straightforward. And there is no known correlation between blood THC concentration and impairment, and testing requires a blood or saliva sample. These complications have made it a challenge to gauge whether legalization makes the roads more hazardous. Some areas have laws that define a predetermined concentration of THC in the blood as illegal whether or not the driver appears impaired.

One company, called Hound Labs, is working on a breakthrough in creating a marijuana breathalyzer.

The company says its device can accurately detect whether a person has smoked pot in the last two hours. The device also doubles as an alcohol breathalyzer, giving police an easy-to-use roadside for both intoxicants.

Other tools now on the market to determine marijuana test blood, saliva or urine can take days for a result.

For now, law enforcement agencies rely mostly on roadside sobriety tests by officers to make an initial determination on impairment. In California, every highway patrol member learns to administer “field sobriety tests” — undergoing an extra 16 hours of training to recognize the influence of different drugs, including marijuana.

 

RESEARCH

Studies do show that marijuana does, in fact, weaken a driver’s ability to maintain focus, and it slows reflexes. But more research is still needed, experts say.

Research by the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University showed that half of young drivers, age 16 to 25, who died in car crashes were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both. In 2015, 43 percent of all drivers killed in vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, according to the NHTSA. In California, 19 percent of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. And those percentages have been increasing each year.

Drugged driving is known as “a silent epidemic,” because there is a misconception that it’s OK and is safe to drive after smoking pot, as NPR reported. And the public — especially teenage drivers — are not well aware of some of the hazards of drugs such as marijuana on driving.

A major study underway on driving impairment at University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is scheduled to wrap up next year. Other groups, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are working on creating standards for a marijuana DUI detection test.

 

STAYING SAFE

The advice for pot users and driving is the same for all substances that cause impairment: never drive while under the influence!

Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs is a crime – even if impairment is due to prescribed medications, illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications or marijuana – medical or recreational. The dangers and legal consequences are the same.

Here’s what you need to know about driving while under the influence of marijuana:

  • Marijuana slows your reaction time and ability to make decisions. Marijuana affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, balance and coordination and can impair judgment and memory. Studies show that driving while under the influence of marijuana negatively impacts attentiveness, perception of time and speed. Impaired memory can affect the ability to draw from past driving experiences, especially in emergency situations.
  •  The higher you are, the more risks you take while driving. Studies show that drivers with only a small amount of THC in their blood can feel the effects. They often try to be more cautious, driving slower than normal, even sometimes too slow. However, greater problems arise when increasingly larger doses of THC are present in the blood. These drivers tend to weave in and out of lanes more, react slower to traffic lights and unexpected obstacles and are less aware of their speed. Overall, higher doses of marijuana tend to cause greater impairment when it comes to driving.
  • The effect of marijuana is strongest during the first 30 minutes after consumption. People who drive immediately after using marijuana may increase their risk of getting into a crash by 25 to 35 percent. The impairing effect rises rapidly and remains for some time. These affects can be delayed if the marijuana is ingested rather than smoked.
  • Combining alcohol with marijuana or impairing medications is even more dangerous than any used alone. Alcohol is a depressant and works by slowing down the central nervous system, which means that normal brain functions are delayed. It also impairs hand-eye coordination and how you process information. When marijuana or the long list of impairing prescription medications and illicit drugs are mixed with alcohol, the combination can heighten the effects of both on the body and brain.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Sixth Bakersfield ‘Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash’ presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles

September 18, 2019 | 6:00 am


Each year, too many innocent people die in Kern County from crashes caused by people who choose to get behind the wheel while under the influence. Those local lives lost – plus hundreds more injured and thousands of friends and families – are affected from this 100 percent preventable crime.

In fact, Kern County is averaging nearly 12 DUI arrests per day. In addition, Kern County ranks worst in the state for DUI crashes resulting in injuries, and second most in the United States. This year alone (as of Sept. 10), CHP-Bakersfield officers have reported 288 DUI traffic collisions, with 11 resulting in fatalities.

MADD Kern County – together with victims, local businesses and community supporters – are coming together to say, “Enough is enough!” and “No More Victims!”

The sixth annual Bakersfield Walk Like MADD and MADD Dash – presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles – will be held Saturday, Sept. 28, at Park at River Walk. It’s aimed to raise awareness of the DUI problem in our local communities, raise funds for local MADD Kern County educational programs, and provide support to local victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving crashes.

Since the first Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash in 2014, thousands of local residents have made their voices heard while raising more than $300,000 for MADD Kern County. In what has become one of the largest fundraising walks and runs in town, the event brings together people from our community – surviving victims of crashes, families and friends of injured and deceased victims, law enforcement and prosecutors, first responders, advocates, and other community leaders and members – to march, rally and run for the cause.

It’s also supported this year by Chevron, Kern High School District, STEPS, Sally Herald Accountancy Inc., UBS Financial, Clinica Sierra Vista, Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, Kern County Prosecutors Association, Strata Credit Union, Wells Fargo, and more. A kid’s fun run is presented by Adventist Health and Bakersfield Active 20-30 Club.

“Kern County has a serious DUI problem, and it’s going to take every single one of us to make an impact,” said Carla Pearson, MADD Kern County’s Victim Service Specialist. “We can come together to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ prevent future DUI arrests and crashes, and see a day with no more victims.”

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles for many years has partnered with MADD Kern County to combat DUI crashes. Attorney Matt Clark sits on the MADD Kern County Advisory Board and regularly speaks to DUI offenders during the MADD Victim Impact Panels, and law firm marketing director is the planning committee chairman for the annual. Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash. For its work has been recognized and honored on several occasions:

  • MADD Kern County honored Chain | Cohn | Stiles with a “Community Champion” award during the 2018 Kern County MADD Law Enforcement and Prosecutor Recognition luncheon ceremony for the law firm’s work toward raising awareness locally and helping victims.
  • The law firm was also nominated in the “Corporation of the Year” category for a 2018 Beautiful Bakersfield Award, which recognizes a company whose volunteer hours and/or financial donations have made a meaningful difference.
  • Jorge Barrientos, director of marketing and public relations for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, was awarded California’s “Volunteer of the Year” award by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California, at the “Celebrating California’s Heroes” law enforcement and community recognition event in Sacramento.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Kern Under the Influence’: Series highlights local DUI epidemic

February 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


UPDATE: Eyewitness News recently presented a special half-hour program focused on the series highlighted below titled “Under the Influence & On the Road,” sponsored by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. To watch the entire program, click here

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You are more likely to die of a DUI related crime in Kern County than any other county in the state of California.

It’s with that startling fact that Eyewitness News (KBAK-KBFX) recently presented a five-part, in-depth investigation into Kern County’s DUI epidemic titled “Kern Under the Influence.” The series, by reporter Jeff Platt, highlights how deadly Kern County’s roads truly are, how difficult it is to keep repeat DUI drivers off our roadways, how officers try to keep our streets safe, how crash victims are affected, and how we can prevent future DUI crimes.

The series also features Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury lawyer Matt Clark, who shares his experience in representing DUI crash victims, and the suffering that they incur. Clark is a board member on MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, and his law firm serves annually as the presenting sponsor for the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, which raises funds to help innocent victims of DUI crashes, helps raise awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and helps fund MADD Kern County programs.

Clark also serves as a speaker for the MADD Victim Impact Panel, a program that has victims and other DUI crime experts speak to first-time DUI offenders in an effort to prevent future and repeat DUI offenders. Clark also took part in a special Eyewitness News Victim Impact Panel segment that followed the five-part series.

To view each of the five parts in the Eyewitness News series and the special Victim Impact Panel segment, scroll down to “Media Coverage” section at the bottom of this post. Here is a breakdown of each of the parts:

 

Part I: Drunk Drivers in Kern County

Every day, drivers in Kern County are sharing the roads with drunk drivers. In fact, local officers arrested nearly 4,300 DUI drivers last year. And that’s just “a drop in the bucket” in terms of how many DUI drivers are actually driving on local streets, local officials say.

According to Eyewitness News, there are 15 DUI drivers on the road at any given moment, with a peak between midnight and 3 a.m., where are nearly 80 DUI drivers in Kern County. And each one of them is a tragedy waiting to happen.

 

Part II: Repeat offenders hardly punished

One of biggest problems involving DUI drivers is that state laws force our county to let them drive drunk over and over again.

In California, drunk drivers get a second chance, a third chance, and in many cases a fourth chance after they are caught before getting any real jail time. As Eyewitness News shows, in between those chances, they’re driving on Kern County’s roadways, and sometimes they claim lives.

Victims are left with little trust in the system, but want lawmakers to address and fix this problem.

 

Part III: Busting drunk drivers

For police, catching DUI drivers sometimes is like finding a needle in a haystack, and other times it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The worry always is how many they are not able to catch.

The fact is, drunk drivers outnumber the police and officers can’t be everywhere at once. But local police use such strategies as check points, saturation patrols, and having every officer DUI-trained to catch DUI drivers. They also hope other motorists look out for DUI drivers and report them to police to keep other drivers safe. A 9-1-1 call with a location and partial plate could be the difference between a fatal crash, or a driver under the influence ending up behind bars.

After all, DUI is a community issue, which will take a community effort to stop it.

 

Part VI: The insurance myth

There is a myth that many victims of DUI crashes get rich in court. In fact, the opposite is true.

A combination of old insurance laws, minimal enforcement of those laws, and rising costs of medical care has created a new normal where DUI crash victims who live end up smothered in debt. In cases of death, victims’ families are sometimes left with nothing.

“Defendants in drunk driving cases often times have no insurance or far too little insurance to cover an injury or God forbid a death,” attorney Matt Clark explained.

Two major issues are at play. One, insurance companies and the DMV don’t communicate, making it too easy to drive without insurance. The second issue is the minimum coverage rates in California barely cover an ambulance ride to the hospital.

Clark suggests increasing your uninsured/under-insured-driver coverage on your policy.

 

Part V: Your choice

Many of the solutions to end DUI driving would take huge government action, including stiffer penalties. But one solution is in our hands: every single one of us deciding to make the right choice and help others make the right choice, too. Impaired driving, after all, is 100-percent preventable.

 

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MEDIA COVERAGE: KERN COUNTY UNDER THE INFLUENCE

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash due to the fault of a DUI driver, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.