Fatal crashes involving marijuana double since legalization in Washington

AAA is issuing a warning tonight about driving high on marijuana. According to their latest research, fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled after Washington State legalized the drug. According to the report, the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana more than doubled from eight to 17 percent from 2013 to 2014.

The report adds recent research indicates that legal limits for marijuana and driving are arbitrary and unsupported by science. Many states have created legal limits to specify the maximum amount of THC, the chemical that induces marijuana’s effects, drivers can have in their system based on a blood test. However, researchers suggest these limits are problematic because there’s no science showing that drivers reliably become impaired at a specific level of marijuana in the blood, high THC levels may drop below the legal limit before a test is administered to the driver, and marijuana can affect people differently making it hard to create fair guidelines.

Law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they haven’t seen a significant increase in people driving while high on marijuana since the drug was legalized in July 2015, but some admit they haven’t had an effective way to gather those statistics.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said with a short staff and increased call loads they don’t have as many resources to track high drivers, and there’s not always a criminal investigation that goes along with fatal accidents.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said their three most recent fatal crashes involved alcohol and hallucinogens.

“We have not seen a dramatic increase in DUII marijuana cases here in Ashland,” he said. “It’s not the say they’re not happening, but we’re not seeing them.”

Oregon State Police said they have seen an uptick in DUIIs, but can’t specify whether those drivers charged were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or another drug.

OSP also said their Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs, responded to nearly 200 more calls in 2015 than in 2014. DREs specialize in determining whether a driver is high on any type of drug. But they add they also had more of those officers on hand, so it’s difficult to say whether the increase was due to marijuana legalization or more DREs available to answer calls.

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