All over the country, local and state politicians are working with their police departments to find more effective ways to bust drugged drivers under the influence of marijuana. One counter-intuitive bill in Illinois would crack down on drugged driving by both decriminalizing marijuana and raising the threshold police use to bust stoned drivers.
Police who suspect that a driver is under the influence of marijuana often have no effective roadside test equivalent to the breathalyzer. Police can test for the presence of marijuana metabolites in a suspect’s system, but the data is often inconclusive. For comparison, police say it would be like a breathalyzer test that could only determine if a driver had used alcohol sometime in the past month, not whether they were currently alcohol impaired.
Illinois House Bill 218 would decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana and replace a zero tolerance drug testing standard with a more effective test. Under the proposed legislation, any driver found to have 15 nanograms or more of THC (a marijuana metabolite) per milliliter of blood would test positive for marijuana impairment.
But critics say that’s too lenient on drugged drivers. Both Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal, have a standard of five nanograms. Colorado just recently legalized pot, and police there say it’s led to high rates of high drivers. In 2007, about 7% of drivers in fatal Colorado car crashes had marijuana in their system, but police say that number has more than doubled since then.
Colorado police and traffic lawyers still agree that drunk drivers are a bigger threat to public safety. In 2011, 161 people died in fatal drunk driving crashes. But while drugged driving fatalities are on the rise, the state has seen a 45% reduction in fatal drunk driving accidents. Police in the Evergreen state also estimate that 10% of the drivers they stop are alcohol impaired, much higher than the number of drugged drivers they pull over.
Politicians and law enforcement agencies in states like Colorado and Illinois are working together to increase public awareness about the dangers of driving after using marijuana. In Colorado, a series of public service announcements have hit the airwaves this summer warning viewers about the consequences of stoned driving.
Like many such anti-drug PSA’s, the commercials have been called slightly hokey by viewers. But unlike previous educational efforts, these new “Drive High, Get a DUI” videos don’t actually discourage people from doing drugs, just driving after using them.
“Grilling high is now legal,” one ad says. “Driving to get the propane you forgot isn’t.”