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Apr-23-2014 15:15printcomments

Helpful Facts About Marijuana DUIs

A study published by the Journal of Law & Economics found that adoption of medical marijuana laws is associated with a decline in traffic fatalities

Up in Smoke
Movies like "Up in Smoke" make pot smoking and driving seem like a bad combination; but let's remember this is Hollywood; tests indicate that legalizing marijuana leads to fewer fatal accidents.

(WASHINGTON DC) - You may have heard the news that the Arizona State Supreme Court just ruled that motorists can’t be charged with a DUI unless they were actually impaired at the time of the stop. This sounds like common sense, but reveals an important truth about driving under the influence of marijuana: marijuana is metabolized differently from alcohol, so blood tests are virtually useless. Of course, that hasn’t stopped many communities from using them, but we believe there is a better way to combat the problem using old-fashioned police work. We have compiled some info on Marijuana DUIs you may find helpful in the months and years ahead as this story continues to be debated.

This seems to be an issue opponents of marijuana policy reform love to bring up, and our law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs are uniquely qualified to speak to it.

·         Unlike alcohol, THC can stay in the bloodstream for days or weeks. We must find a way to accurately measure the impairment of a driver if we're going to fairly charge them with a crime. Currently, officers in every state but West Virginia are being trained to become drug recognition experts who can recognize the signs of drug impairment and make arrests for drugged driving offenses (4) Blood tests should be no substitute for good police work.


·         A study published by the Journal of Law & Economics found that adoption of medical marijuana laws is associated with a decline in traffic fatalities(1)


·         DUI fatalities in both Colorado and Washington slightly decreased after legalization went into effect. 2013 data in Washington is still preliminary, but for the first three quarters there were only 317 fatalities; for the first three quarters of 2012, before legalization went into effect, there were 327. Similarly, in Colorado in 2012 there were 434 fatalities; preliminary data for 2013 shows there were only 424. (6)


·         The study showing an increase in number of DUI drivers with THC in their blood that opponents like to cite was based on six states (3), three of which didn't have medical marijuana/legalization/decriminalization laws during the study, so the increase is not a product of changing marijuana laws. The three that did have medical marijuana laws - California, Hawaii and Rhode Island - saw sharp decreases in traffic fatalities between enactment of their medical marijuana laws and the end of the study period. Fatalities fell 31%, 14% and 21%, respectively. (2)


·         Marijuana seems to be a substitute for alcohol - medical marijuana laws are associated with decreases in the probability of having consumed alcohol in the past month, binge drinking, and the number of drinks consumed. (1)


·         Traffic fatalities may be decreasing in association with this this substitution effect and the fact that most people drink alcohol on weekends outside of the home (parties, bars, restaurants, etc) and are more inclined to drive after having consumed... whereas most marijuana is consumed in the home or other private locations, meaning there is less reason/necessity to drive after consumption (1)


·         Someone who uses marijuana very little or rarely will be more impaired and make more mistakes than someone who smokes more and more frequently.  (1) This ties into the 5ng THC/ml of blood limit some states have enacted because it's very possible that someone with a higher ng count is actually less likely to cause an accident. 


·         While alcohol causes an increase in traffic fatalities, it remains legal because, as we found out in the 1920s, regulation and control is a better policy than prohibition. But we also promote responsible policies to prevent driving while intoxicated and punish those who break the laws.  We need a similar policy in place for marijuana.







5. 5. (Download report)

6. 6.



Darby Beck

Media Relations Director
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
p: 415.823.5496

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