Next week, Californians will be voting on a measure to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Proposition 64 is expected to pass. The law would allow adults to use, possess or transport an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six plants.
However, the number of law enforcement and traffic safety organizations have expressed concern that the measure will increase the incidents of drugged driving on our roads, while not providing an empirical way for police officers, prosecutors or juries to determine whether someone was breaking the law.
One issue is the training of law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of marijuana impairment when they pull over a driver. Those in favor of the measure, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, point out that some of the money raised from taxing recreational marijuana will be used, along with grants, for this training and for technology to help officers detect whether someone is under the influence of marijuana in roadside stops.
However, there are still issues with prosecuting alleged offenders. California doesn’t have a standard for a legal amount of marijuana in a driver’s bloodstream, as there is with alcohol. Further, traces of the drug can remain in the blood long past the point where a person is impaired by it. Thus, it’s difficult for prosecutors to convince a jury to convict a person for driving under the influence of marijuana.
Those who say that the law could go into place without systems to detect and prosecute drugged driving point to the 48 percent increase in traffic fatalities in Colorado after that state legalized recreational marijuana. The head of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen says that “we are going to start losing folks in astronomical numbers before we finally realize maybe we didn’t look at it thoroughly enough.”
While there may be challenges to prosecuting someone criminally for drugged driving, victims of drivers who are reckless or negligent can still seek to hold them accountable in civil court, regardless of the reason for their actions.