The NY Times ponders yet another aspect of the seemingly-inevitable legalization of marijuana - what do we do about people who are driving while stoned?
They offer plausible arguments that such behavior is less dangerous than driving under the influence and also much more difficult to test reliably. However, they seem to come to a troubling conclusion:
All of these facts lead experts like Dr. Romano and Dr. Kleiman to believe that public resources are better spent combating drunken driving. Stoned driving, they say, is best dealt with by discouraging people from mixing marijuana and alcohol — a combination that is even riskier than alcohol alone — and by policies that minimize marijuana’s risk on the road.
For instance, states that legalize recreational marijuana, Dr. Kleiman said, should ban establishments like pot bars that encourage people to smoke away from home. And Dr. Romano said that lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration, or B.A.C., to 0.05 or even 0.02 percent would reduce risk far more effectively than any effort to curb stoned driving.
“I’m not saying marijuana is safe,” he said. “But to me it’s clear that lowering the B.A.C. should be our top priority. That policy would save more lives.”
Mark Kleiman is a national treasure and when he speaks on drug policy I listen very carefully. I also don't have high confidence in NY Times reporting. However, what I think I am reading here is that we should throw up our hands and not criminalize driving while stoned at all, which is absurd.
Part of the challenge of managing a transition to a legalized marijuana regime is managing the inevitable increase in consumption, especially among America's youth. If a drunk driver risks fines, loss of license and hard time while a stoned driver risks none of the above, that provides a strong push in favor marijuana.
One obvious solution (which may be implicit in the response of the experts above) is to criminalize impaired driving behavior, regardless of the cause. Weaving, speeding, inappropriate lane changes, and so on can all be grounds for a traffic citation regardless of, or despite the lack of, a pharmaceutical explanation.
That said, passing a feel-good law that can't be implemented reliably and doesn't overlap with the behavior we are trying to deter doesn't normally fan my enthusiasm either. If marijuana blood tests are detecting usage from several days ago, that is not helpful. I would encourage the bright legal lights to shine on this puzzle so that marijuana does not end up with a favored legal status relative to alcohol.