How should the law treat stoned drivers?

Now that it’s legal in two states to use marijuana for the purpose of getting high, authorities are considering how to regulate driving while stoned. It’s a complicated question, because testing is difficult and researchers differ over the level of impairment marijuana causes.

There’s some evidence that young people consider it less likely they will suffer negative consequences if they drive stoned than if they drive drunk.

Twenty states, including Minnesota, have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Today’s question: How should the law treat stoned drivers?


  • Sue de Nim

    Since, unlike ethanol, blood levels of THC can’t be measured easily and don’t necessarily correlate directly with the level of impairment, it is necessary to devise a test that measures a person’s level of impairment directly by assessing coordination, cognition and reaction time. Or maybe just reaction time. People who drive stoned tend to go slower than normal, which is because their reaction time is longer.

    • JQP

      too ambiguous… endless court cases… and eventual unconstitutionality.

      assuming a minimum coordination, cognition and reaction time “score” could be created… assigning “criminal” implications to the measured behavior will fail because the cause of impairment or observed impairment might be due to some other factor.

      • KTN

        But the police already use a variety of physical tests to detect drunk drivers, and those are readily admissible in court, even when there are other mitigating factors to explain a behavior (say an allergic reaction to a bee sting for instance).
        But to the question, absent the ability to detect in real time, the level of THC in blood, this is going to be a vexing policy issue for a while. But, I do agree with many others that driving after smoking weed leads to a more cautious driver, not less.

    • Ralphy

      How many elderly drivers could pass a cognitive or reflex field test? How would a standard be set to measure against? There needs to be some sort of measurable sample (saliva? urine? blood?) that will stand up to scientific and legal scrutiny.

  • PaulJ

    I won’t suppose it is any safer than texting.

  • John

    Pot stays in the body as much as 30 days. How can you possibly have a blood or urine test for it. Maybe we all need to relax our standards on this. How about all the zero tolerance workplaces? If the job has some relation to the impairment, like heavy equipment operator, that’s one thing. But to just say zero tolerance for all illegal drugs, I don’t think so. Cub Foods had a conspicuous sign that I noticed a few days ago that warned job applicants not to even apply if you use illegal drugs. If you want to stock shelves at Cub and smoke pot on the weekends, what’s the problem?

    • JQP

      while I agree that drug testing is malformed for pot.. relative to performance …

      the problem does exist that someone walking in after smoking a joint 1/2 hour ago may be impaired enough to drive a skid loader through a wall or incorrectly ring up purchases at the register… or fall off a step.. … all of which have financial, insurance, legal, etal implications for the store and store owners.

      Its not enough to point out what doesn’t work .. Its necessary to find something that does.. because changing the insurance and legal system would be way harder.

    • davehoug

      Because an employee who thinks getting stoned on the weekend is a good idea may think the night before work may be a good idea or sneaking off during work. Any employee can cost the employer huge bucks by mis-treating a customer or injuring themselves. Just to successfully defend a lawsuit is pricey.

      An employee who never does drugs is worth more than an employee who thinks it is none of their business.

      • Yanotha Twangai

        But an employer that doesn’t stick its nose into your private life is better to work for than one that does, and its good for business when the employees like their employer.

  • Mark Gisleson

    The lege should revisit DUI laws to insure that impaired drivers are on the hook for ALL damages resulting from an accident that is their fault, but at the same time it’s past time we acknowledge that just because one driver in an accident is impaired, it doesn’t mean the accident was their fault. Yes, just because someone was talking on their phone or texting doesn’t mean it was their fault, only that it was probably their fault.

    Whereas drunk drivers often become very aggressive, marijuana-impaired drivers are far more likely to exhibit excessive caution, but distracted/texting drivers are a random and hard to predict menace.

    Don’t let these laws be rewritten without lawmakers first demonstrating an awareness of the level of threat presented, and the fact that electronic devices can impair a driver every bit as much as booze or drugs. And for pity’s sake, if the lege addresses this, they should spell out in exact detail the level of force the police can use in dealing with these drivers. No level of impairment is an invitation to a tasing or police shooting.

  • Gary F

    They better figure out something that is not subjective but objective. I’d hate for a stoner to kill my family member or ruin my property.

  • Rich in Duluth

    Yes, if a person is driving and impaired, then the law should come down on them.

    But, I’ll play the devil’s advocate and offer this. It would seem that the most important thing to consider is whether the driver is impaired or not. If a person has been drinking or has been smoking grass and is not impaired, what’s the problem? Impairment should be the issue. Certainly, a field test can be set up to determine this.