Marijuana traffic crashes are on the rise in Ohio. Could ‘draconian’ laws be at play?


Marijuana-involved traffic crashes are up in Ohio. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Marijuana-involved traffic crashes are up in Ohio. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Through Nov. 19, the Ohio State Highway Patrol recorded 1,311 traffic crashes involving marijuana, which was already up about 1.2% from all of 2019, according to agency data.

The state patrol said there have been 10,807 crashes involving impaired drivers of all kinds through mid-November, or about 83% of last year’s total.

Drug impairment is just as dangerous as alcohol impairment, and certain drugs can remain psychoactive in people’s systems for long periods of time, said Sgt. Nathan Dennis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Dennis said the impairing effect of marijuana can last up to 24 hours, which typically is long after the initial high wears off. This means users may not feel intoxicated and believe they are OK to drive when they are not.

Troopers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol examine marijuana and drug paraphernalia found during an OVI checkpoint in Tipp City in 2017. Steve Baker/Staff

Troopers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol examine marijuana and drug paraphernalia found during an OVI checkpoint in Tipp City in 2017. Steve Baker/Staff

Marijuana use is associated with a moderately higher risk of crashes, and the drug affects reaction time, motor performance, attention and decision-making, said Glen Solomon, chairman of the department of internal medicine and neurology at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University.

Solomon said driving high does not have the same stigma as drunk driving.

He said possibly that’s because when stoned, people tend to drive slower. Often after consuming alcohol, motorists drive faster.

But impaired driving isn’t safe even at slower speeds, Solomon said, and marijuana hurts judgment, coordination and other important motor skills.

Research has shown that people use CBD ― a non-psychoactive component of cannabis ― primarily for pain and anxiety, and it’s likely people use marijuana for similar reasons, Solomon said.

Some surveys have found that people are using drugs and alcohol more frequently during the outbreak. Survey-takers said they used drugs and alcohol to cope with stress, relieve boredom and deal with mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

Legal medical marijuana use definitely has increased, Solomon said, and some patients likely make the bad decision to drive when they impaired..

Michelle Moser, coordinator of the Montgomery County OVI Task Force, said driving high is a growing concern.

So far this year, there have been 185 traffic crashes in Montgomery County that were drug-related, which is just 10 crashes short of the 2019 year-end total, she said.

“If you are high, you may not be able to react to stop in time in the case of a pedestrian crossing the street, or someone suddenly stopping in front of you,” she said. “That is when accidents occur.”

Some research has found that heavy marijuana users have worse driving performances compared to non-users even when they are not high on the drug.

Rowland, with DaytonDUI.com, said marijuana-involved crashes are increasing because in recent years police have received specialized training to identify signs of cannabis use.

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers receive Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training that is supposed to detect drug-impaired driving, including marijuana impairment.

Police now look for signs of pot use during every traffic stop and auto crash, Rowland said, and officers are using two field sobriety tests to determine marijuana impairment (the modified Romberg balance test and lack of convergence test).

“Because they have the new tools, they are more likely to find that someone was impaired by marijuana,” he said.

Ohio has a “zero tolerance” OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) law that is one of the worst and most unforgiving in the nation because it considers drivers impaired if they have a marijuana metabolite concentration of 35 nanograms in their system, which is a very small amount, Rowland said.

Ohio drivers basically are considered high until detectable levels of marijuana leave their system, which can take days or much longer to happen after consumption, especially for regular users, he said.





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