Operating under the influence undetected

Maine voters have approved the legal sale and personal consumption of marijuana — even while federal law on the issue has not changed. Communities all over Maine now are wrestling with moratoria on the retail sale of marijuana in their towns, and the possibility of social clubs where it could be served. Their deliberations indicate how narrow the margin of last year’s vote was. Clearly, many citizens feel the vote for legalization did not represent their views on the subject.

Meanwhile, police departments statewide are working to determine how they are going to protect the driving public from marijuana users who errantly operate motor vehicles. Unlike drunk driving, which can be identified through roadside breath tests, there is no simple test to detect marijuana impairment. Only a blood test can reliably indicate a level of use that would affect judgment and one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. And only a few officers in Hancock County have received advanced drug recognition expert training.

Further, even after a blood test, no legal limit of THC in the bloodstream has been set as the threshold for impaired driving.

With drunk driving deaths on the decline locally and nationally for well over a decade, motoring deaths have now started to increase due to “distracted driving.” But in Colorado and Washington State, where recreational marijuana has been legally available for some time, traffic deaths are climbing at a faster rate due to an increase in the number of drivers under the influence of marijuana, according to police.

How will we have benefited after working to reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths for decades? Trading one impairment for another shows a troubling lack of thought about, and analysis of, the questions surrounding legalizing marijuana use in Maine.

Proponents of last year’s referendum question on legalization soft-pedaled the issue of driver impairment. Yet, it will be inevitable that marijuana users will drive, treating this responsibility as just another function they can handle — impaired or not. The costs to others will outweigh the freedom that users enjoy.


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