Working under the influence - pot

By DAVID A. WILSON

Democrat Staff

Excitement has been reported locally over the push to legalize marijuana. As a part of a growing trend, a bill has again been introduced in the Missouri legislature.

For some, there is hope they will be able to smoke a joint and drive to the workplace. However, recent research questions whether those drivers would make it to their workplace.

Fatal car crashes involving use of cannabis have gone up drastically, according to research from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Currently six states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, New hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia — perform routine toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car wrecks.

Between 1999 and 2010, statistical results from tests done on nearly 24,000 drivers showed a relatively steady 40 percent of alcohol-related deaths. Over the same period of time, drug-related deaths tripled. For marijuana, the most common drug detected in the tests, the rate rose from 4 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2010.

According to the study authors, one out of every nine drivers involved in a fatal crash would test positive for marijuana. If the upward trend continues on its present track, in only five or six years, the researchers expect non-alcohol drugs to be the leading factor in deaths from impaired driving.

Toxicology test results on fatally injured drivers are very important. That is because on-the-spot tests for marijuana are nowhere near as good as those for alcohol, such as a Breathalizer Test.

So while marijuana statistics for the dead may be accurate and reliable, accuracy and reliability in testing for live pot-smokers is practically non-existent.

This study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health focuses on "impaired drivers."

While one driver meeting another on the road who is "driving under the influence - alcohol" or "driving under the influence - pot" is important — one might say vitally important — drivers are hardly the only concern.

Of course a person could be expected to be alarmed if the electric company worker, the auto mechanic or the meat cutter is under the influence of alcohol on the job. But would pot-smokers really be any better?

We could soon find out.

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