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House panel explores issue of drugged driving in light of marijuana use

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives recently held a panel discussion on the issue of drugged driving, a growing problem which is raising concern about the safety of travelers nationwide, particularly as marijuana becomes more accepted for medical and recreational purposes. Two central issues lawmakers were interested in at the panel were the degree of danger posed by drugged driving, as well as ways law enforcement officials can better deal with drivers who display the signs of drug influence.

Sources point out that there wasn’t a lot of agreement that came from the discussion, other than that more research needs to be done, presumably on both issues. At present, we don’t know enough about how marijuana influences cognitive operations from individual to individual in order to determine how much risk marijuana use poses or how officers should deal with drivers who appear to be high.

The question is particularly pressing in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana has been approved for recreational use, but it is also a concern in states where medical marijuana is approved. This, of course, includes Illinois.

According to NORML.org, an advocate for reform of marijuana laws, an individual can be charged with drugged driving in Illinois if he or she is seen to be operating a vehicle unsafely due to the use of any drug or combination of drugs. Alternatively, a driver can be charged with the crime if any amount of a drug is found in their system.  Because of this, users of medical marijuana face a dilemma—should they drive or not? From the perspective of criminal defense, there is the concern that those who are legally using medical marijuana have to choose between their medication and the ability to drive.

In our next post, we’ll continue speaking about this topic, especially the topic of obtaining a good defense in the face of criminal charges. 

Source: The Denver Post, “Congress examines pot and ‘drugged driving,’ Mark Matthews, July 31, 2014. 

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