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Impaired Driving And Marijuana Law Reform

Earlier this year, the Illinois government made two changes to the law that may affect the incidence of drugged driving. First, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana was changed from a criminal offense to a civil issue. Those possessing smaller quantities of cannabis are now subject to a fine of no more than $200. They no longer face criminal penalties, including jail time. The second change involves the definition of driving under the influence of marijuana. That crime is now defined as driving with 5 or more nanograms of THC in their blood, or 10 or more nanograms of THC in their saliva. The previous law allowed prosecutors to charge a driver with drug impairment if there was any amount of THC in their blood.

Whether these changes are a good idea depends, in part, on the connection between marijuana and other behaviors. When it comes to impaired driving, will deadly car accidents increase because more drivers feel free to use marijuana before getting behind the wheel? What is the connection between THC and unsafe driving? Without a solid understanding of how marijuana affects a person's ability to drive, laws defining when a driver is "impaired" are simply guesswork. 

To be clear, car accident victims do not need to prove that a driver was legally impaired to collect compensation for their injuries. Criminal conviction is not necessary to prove negligence. The issue is whether the changes will make the roads less safe for everyone.

States that have passed medical marijuana or recreational use laws have seen an increase in the use of pot. If it is legal, more people use it. People who drive under the influence of marijuana are twice as likely to get in a crash as people who are not impaired. While there are other factors to consider, legislators should keep an eye on the number of accidents tied to drug use. While alcohol is still a larger problem than drugs when it comes to driving under the influence, both can lead to significant injuries or loss of life.

Source: Journalist's Resource, "Marijuana legalization: Research review on crime and impaired driving," by David Trilling, 23 September 2016 

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