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A DUI for Marijuana?


Colorado and Washington made headlines last year when majorities in both states voted to legalize the sale and use of mairjuana within their states. Six months later, both states are trying to figure out what a legal pot regime actually looks like, and it’s a tricky business.

Naturally, the core issues stem from the regulation of the marijuana trade. Who should be allow to sell marijuana? Who should be allowed to grow it? To buy it? Should pot be regulated differently for recreational and medical users? How can we ensure that these drugs stay out of the hands of children? How high should the taxes be?

These are all important questions, but as we’ve argued before, one of the key provisions will be strict punishments for driving or operating machinery while high, similar to current rules for drunk driving. In Colorado and Washington (as in many other states) driving under the influence of marijuana is currently illegal, but it’s difficult to determine whether or not a driver is high. The WSJ reports on their predicament:

In part because of the ambiguities in detecting pot-DUI situations, states like Colorado say they need an analog to the blood-alcohol test. “Without a test a lot turns on everything at the roadside and roadside tests related to marijuana impairment are not as clear-cut as the alcohol tests are,” said Tom Raynes, executive director at the Colorado District Attorneys Council….

Meanwhile, states are still sorting out punishments for drivers who are found to be high. In Washington, drivers arrested or convicted of DUI offenses, for alcohol or drugs, must install a device that prevents the car from starting if it detects alcohol on the driver’s breath. But the ignition-interlock device doesn’t detect marijuana or any other drug.

New technologies may eventually solve the problem. Still, it illustrates the point that wide-scale legalization has effects that go far beyond the much-discussed issues of addiction and incarceration. At TAI, we ran an excellent piece exploring a number of the potential challenges and pitfalls of legalization, but even this could only scratch the surface.

Before other states rush to join Colorado and Washington, it would be good to see them think through these issues first.

[Traffic Stop image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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