Saturday, December 9, 2023

How High is Too High?: New Marijuana Laws Cause Concerns for Roadway Safety

According to NORML, every state prohibits driving while drugged. Virginia’s new cannabis law does not change this. (Courtesy of Pexels)

STATEWIDE — The personal use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana became legal (with certain restrictions) throughout the Commonwealth as of July 1, 2021. 

Commissions and authorities were established, councils were made, and programs were created. 

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While the new legislation may be seen as a legal win for many, for others, the new law brings concerns for the safety of drivers and their passengers.

“AAA is deeply concerned about the negative traffic safety implications of the legalization of recreational cannabis in Virginia,” said Director of Public Affairs for AAA Tidewater Holly Dalby in a statement from a June 28 news release.

According to Dalby, a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reviewed a full 10-years’ worth of data about the potential impact of marijuana on roadway safety. The data suggested that the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana may increase the rate of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes.

According to the new law, previously known as House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, consuming any cannabis products in a moving vehicle, let alone having an open container of cannabis, is still illegal for both drivers and passengers.

To put it bluntly, just don’t have weed in your car unless you’re transporting it somewhere. 

But what if you’ve just consumed some and you only feel a little high? 

Still, don’t drive. 

Unlike consuming alcohol, there isn’t a limit to the amount a person can consume before they are considered to be too inebriated, according to Maj. Ron Montgomery with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office

There is no piece of technology like a breathalyzer to register how inebriated a person is,” Montgomery said. “As these issues move forward, that technology will develop and we’ll adjust to whatever changes occur accordingly.”

This law doesn’t just apply to Virginia. As of now, every state criminalizes driving under the influence of a controlled substance, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

What are the penalties of driving under the influence

According to NORML, any person, whether licensed by Virginia or not, will have to take a drug test done by having samples of their blood, breath, or both blood and breath taken for a chemical test to determine the presence of a controlled substance.

It is through implied consent that anyone who drives under the influence then also subjects themselves to have a drug test performed. 

If the accused doesn’t want to submit to a drug test, then the test won’t be given. However, such refusal will be in violation of implied consent statutes and subject to penalties.

The offender’s first refusal to submit to testing is a civil offense and subsequent violations are criminal offenses. With the first refusal could result in one’s driving privilege to be suspended for a year. A second refusal that occurs within 10 years would be considered a class two misdemeanor and the court can suspend one’s driving privilege for three years.  

The driver can also receive an additional fine of at least $500 and a mandatory minimum period of confinement of five days if convicted of driving under the influence while transporting a person 17 years of age or younger.

For more information on Virginia’s cannabis laws, visit NORML’s website here.

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