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The Surprising Truth About Driving While High

The human body does not process cannabis the way it processes alcohol.

Photo Credit: Valua Vitaly / Shutterstock.com


The following article first appeared in Cannabis Now Magazine

As more and more states adopt  medical and recreational marijuana policies, it seems the most feared outcome of legalization is that with the passage of laws that permit any sort of marijuana use, more impaired drivers will end up on the roads.

In fact, during the Denver 4/20 celebrations last weekend, tourists learned just how easy it was to  get a ticket for smoking cannabis in public because of these concerns. Under Amendment 64, establishments designed for cannabis consumption (akin to a bar or lounge where alcohol is served) are prohibited.

Although loopholes have allowed some such clubs to exist (by charging a cover fee but not actually selling cannabis to guests) it’s hard to find a place to get high in Denver legally as a tourist unless you just do it on the street, where you risk getting a citation.

The primary concern with opening cannabis bars and lounges is that people will ingest marijuana on-site and then drive high.

I am here to tell you that there are already people “driving high” all over this country and it’s not a big deal.

There are also people speeding and racing, doing their makeup, eating, texting, talking on the phone, using their laptops or iPads, fighting with their children, drinking alcohol, popping pills, smoking meth,  ghost riding, falling asleep, shooting guns at road signs or engaging in some sort of sexual behavior — all while operating a moving vehicle. These things are a big deal, they distract drivers and put the lives of the irresponsible driver and all others around them at risk.

Legislation cannot prevent bad behavior, but it can wrongfully send medical marijuana patients and recreational users all over the country to jail or prevent them from holding jobs they need to drive to get to just for exercising the newly-won human right of safe access to cannabis.

The problem is that the laws surrounding stoned driving are attempting to compare apples to oranges by assuming marijuana impairment can be measured or even should be measured the way alcohol is.

Alcohol is tolerated differently in every body, but generally we can look at someone’s physical height, weight and body mass index compared with the amount of drinks a driver has had over time to accurately determine impairment.

Convenient charts are handed out at DMVs all over this country so that people understand the law considers them impaired after a certain number of drinks, and impairment is distinguishable by a person’s blood alcohol content at the time the peace officer encounters the driver.

Photo BAC Chart:

The science lines up, and although we do our best to prevent it, people still drive drunk. In fact, drunk driving is still the leading cause for traffic fatalities in the nation.

In 1957, nearly 53,000  Americans died in a car accident. By 2012, that number dropped to less than half that—about 25,000 nationwide. Half of those were from  drunk driving. Not only have traffic accidents been going down over time (regardless of alcohol’s legality) states which have passed medical cannabis laws have actually  seen a reduction in traffic fatalities.

The human body does not process cannabis the way it processes alcohol, nor can a person’s tolerance level to the substance be measured similarly with accuracy towards actual impairment.

Human bodies all come equipped with an  endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors found throughout the body (brain, organs, connective tissue, glands and immune cells) that have the explicit purpose of binding with the  cannabinoids found in whole-plant cannabis to perform a variety of tasks where they are found.

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