Now that marijuana has been legalized in our state, instead of a zero tolerance policy, an amount at which a driver is said to be “impaired” had to be set.  Along with this came  further guidelines for officers on the street to detect potential marijuana impairment at traffic stops.  The current level is .05 nanograms of THC in the blood as being comparable to our state’s .08% blood alcohol level which is per se impaired driving.

No one seems able to state how much smoking that is, for a variety of reasons.  The strength of each batch varies wildly.  The fact that THC stores in fatty tissues has all kinds of results.  Most importantly, an overweight chronic user, according to some research, would register over the legal limit, or even double the legal limit, at all times.   My personal take on this is that simply shows that such a person is chronically impaired, and should quit smoking.  That could also help them lose weight, and they would have the bonus prize of releasing the fat-stored THC into their bloodstream while they detox.

For officers, they need to make an assessment to decide whether to go through the process of having blood drawn in the first place.  With alcohol, we have the simple “blow test”.  You blow into a tiny plastic tube and it gives you a pretty reliable alcohol level result. If you are over the legal limit, you are taken back to the station and you retest within two hours of driving on their in-house machine.  Blood draws are rarely done and can be quite expensive.

So what do officers look for in assessing possible marijuana impairment, according to the testimony I have heard during trials?

Red eyes.  Poor muscle coordination.  Delayed reaction times.  All of which sounds like a drunk person as well.   Some more distinguishing characteristics are of course the famous skunk smell.  Abrupt mood swings from relaxed to anxious to panicked to relaxed – back to antsy and anxious.  Oh, so familiar.  And some things that were news to me.  Fluttering eyelids.  I don’t know why, but apparently marijuana causes muscle spasms and it shows especially on the eyelids.  Raised tastebuds, which leads me to wonder if that heightens taste and leads to some of the food cravings.  Problems with focus and memory, and difficulty following instructions or concentrating are also signs.  Delayed reaction time.  Decreased perception of time and distance.  Otherwise known as “being spaced out”.

I live in a marijuana-friendly community, where most smokers are as casual about smoking and driving as my Dad’s generation was about drinking and driving.  And the marijuana is only getting stronger thanks to genetic engineering.  Of course, Dad’s drinking buddies who would invariably accept “one more for the road” just before getting behind the wheel had no intention of harming their families or others.  They just saw alcohol as a friendly, social kind of thing that was relaxing and fun.  And luckily for all of us, there was much less traffic on the roads.

I wonder how many years it will take for people to take smoking and driving as seriously.  I cannot imagine that delayed reactions, decreased perception of time and distance, and other problems focusing would be anything less than a danger to pedestrians, other drivers, and anyone you choose to put in your car after you get pleasantly high.  As traffic in our city becomes more aggressive and our reaction times subdivide into split seconds, it seems worthwhile to reconsider your position if you smoke and drive.  So why don’t you and your twitchy eyelids consider staying home and enjoying your devil’s lettuce from the safety of your back porch?