July 9, 2010

Drugged Driving

By David Brannon

How will life look once cannabis is legal again? What is going to change, and how will society be different? After legalization we will still have rules, and a pile of those rules are going to concern cannabis.

Our legalization efforts will benefit from an open, on-going public debate about these future rules. We must be the ones leading the discussion. We must demonstrate to our non-toking neighbors that they do not need to be afraid of us.

It’s sad but true that, sometimes, people are afraid of those who use cannabis. This unhappy legacy is a result of the fear and lies used to create and maintain the failed drug laws. For some, the thought of re-legalization conjures up visions of a bacchanal worthy of pagan Rome. The truth will turn out much different and not nearly as interesting. We know that. We need to let them know it, too.


The issue of driving while impaired on cannabis offers an opportunity for plain speaking by the re-legalization movement. Drugged driving is a legitimate concern to tokers and the non-toking public alike. There are undecided people on the sidelines who might (i) support us, or, at least, (ii) not oppose us, but are watching to see how we deal with the issue of impaired driving.

Currently, no chemical test exists which can differentiate “relevant” cannabis use – relevant here means “are you stoned while behind the steering wheel of a car?” -- from cannabis use at some earlier time that does not impact on the current ability to drive. This absence of a chemical test has been used as an argument against re-legalization. But there is no need for any chemical test.

The correct inquiry would be -- right now, as you are, are you fit to drive a car? Driving while impaired by alcohol was illegal, and routinely prosecuted, long before the invention of the breathalyzer machine. That’s what roadside sobriety tests are exploring – current fitness to drive a car. The reading on that breath machine doesn’t mean as much, to a judge, as the word of the arresting officer from the witness stand, anyway. That’s something that won’t change after re-legalization.

The breathalyzer was created to take discretion away from police, judges and juries in the prosecution of alcohol-impaired drivers. Score a certain, arbitrary number on the machine and, by definition, you are an impaired driver. Actual driving became irrelevant. When the breathalyzer was first introduced most jurisdictions set the “too drunk to drive” limit at .15. Today, that mark is .08 – nationwide. Alcohol has not changed in that time. Society’s perception of alcohol has.

There really isn’t a quandary when it comes to drugged driving. Regardless the source of the impairment -- alcohol, prescription drugs, paint fumes or pot -- an impaired driver is just that. The noticeable change will be that a “possession of controlled substance” offense won’t accompany your DWI charges through the court system. That you decided to indulge in some once-upon-a-time-controlled substance will, finally, be no one’s business but yours. How you behave under the influence of that self-same substance can still get you sanctioned. That’s all up to you. Again, something else that won’t change after re-legalization.

Accept personal responsibility and exercise a little forethought so that when you enjoy you don’t have to drive. It’s really not that hard. Especially once the happy day comes when cannabis is, once again, legal.[1]

[1] As of the day of this writing, July 4, 2010, cannabis in not legal in most places, and in the places where it as in one form or fashion, it is causing the federal government sleepless nights.

Pictures: OSM Photographer - Courtney Wells

Contact: Bakedlife@gmail.com

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