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Drugged Driving Concerns as Medical Marijuana Advocates Prepare for Vote

While many states have in the past several years approved the legal use and sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes, there is no state in the union where it’s legal to drive under the influence of the drug.
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But our Fort Myers car accident lawyers recognize that isn’t stopping people, which especially concerning here in Florida as support swells for the passage of medical marijuana legislation here in the Sunshine State.

In a study published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from Columbia University say that marijuana was detected in the dead bodies of three times more drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2010 than in 1999. This certainly speaks to the increased availability of the drug, as the number of states where it is now legal has reached 20 and more – including Florida – may be on the horizon.

The study spanned an 11-year period and analyzed the toxicology reports of more than 23,000 drivers, as reported by the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Of course, there is no question that alcohol is by far the most common intoxicant that was found in the systems of deceased drivers. It was found in the blood of almost 40 percent of those who had been killed in 2010. That rate remained fairly stable throughout the decade-long study period.

But most alarming was the increase in the number of deceased drivers who tested positive for marijuana. The primary intoxicating agent in the drug was found in the bloodstream of 4.2 percent of deceased drivers in 1999. In 2010, it was detected in 12.2 percent those drivers.

The drug is not only more widely available, it’s more readily accepted by the general public, as evidenced by the rise in states that have passed pro-marijuana reforms. Researchers noted that the increase was more pronounced in states like California, where medical marijuana has been legal since the late 1990s.

There is no question, researchers say, that the number of deaths will increase as the social perception of marijuana continues to shift.

Only a few states have specified limits that quantify marijuana intoxication. In Colorado, for example, where the drug was recently approved for recreational purposes, drivers can be criminally charged if they test positive for more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC, the active ingredient in the drug. Penalties are the same as for drunk drivers.

Florida, however, has no such quantification, which means that arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana are predicated largely on officer observations and are difficult to prove in court.

In late January, the Florida Supreme Court approved a measure that will put approval of medical marijuana on the ballot for the November 2014 election. The proposed constitutional amendment must receive at least 60 percent of the vote in order to pass. If it passes the amendment would be effective Jan. 6, 2015.

If you are injured by an impaired driver, call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:
Pot Fuels Surge in Drugged Driving Deaths, Feb. 15, 2014, By Bill Briggs, NBC News
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