EXCLUSIVE: Driving while high

November 16, 2018 07:56 PM

A number of local and state law enforcement groups tell News10NBC they do not support legalizing marijuana but at this point, it's likely to happen, so they're getting ready for it.  

To do that, they're looking to states where adult use is already legal.    


There are no weed breathalyzers, so that makes it more difficult for law enforcement to actually enforce driving while high laws.  

"[In Colorado]if you have five nanograms of THC in your system, that is a presumption that you are driving while high," says Andrew Freedman, former director of marijuana coordination in Colorado. 

If a police officer observes behavior or finds marijuana in your car, they can request a roadside sobriety test. If the test is failed, they can demand a blood test. If you refuse, you're charged with a felony.  

The state of Colorado keeps data on arrests. 

"The most concerning fact that I have seen is drivers involved in fatal accidents are more often now testing positive for active THC, so THC that would dissipate in your system three to four hours after use," adds Freedman. 

However, there are caveats to the data. 

"What [we] have to acknowledge is that a lot of times, people use cannabis along with other substances, so sometimes in the drug impacted driving situations, you're going to have people who have both alcohol and THC in their systems," says Dr. Lorraine Collins, addiction researcher. 

But either way, there are dangers associated with driving while high, even for people who think they're used to doing it.  

"Heavy users don't think they're a safety issue when they drive high despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. People are like, 'I drive more slow when I'm high.' Driving while slow is a very big safety hazard, particularly when you're on a highway," says Freedman. 

So, as New York puts together its recreational marijuana program, there's no doubt that a lot of money will have to be put aside to train law enforcement, and launch public campaigns about the dangers of being high behind the wheel.

"A lot of people look at the data and they say, 'see this is proof we should have done this' and that's a challenge because if something happens because of alcohol, we don't say.. 'that's just proof that we shouldn't have legalized alcohol," says Freedman. 

There are a number of products being developed that may give police officers a better ability to actually test for marijuana on the side of the road but those are not ready for market and are not scientifically sound enough at this point, to be used in a court of law.

However, there's no doubt that any approved program here in New York would include a component making driving while high, a felony.


Jennifer Lewke

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