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Cloud over medical marijuana: car accidents caused by pot users

Proponents of medical marijuana have made headway in a number of states, though not yet here in Wisconsin. Proponents make powerful arguments that marijuana can help alleviate pain in some seriously ill people.

However, one aspect of the medical marijuana debate that doesn't get as much attention is the body of evidence showing that people who smoke marijuana and then drive are more likely to cause car accidents.

Two states -- Colorado and Washington -- are deciding this fall whether to allow recreational marijuana use in addition to its use for medical reasons. Many observers say changing attitudes about marijuana should include serious discussions of how its use affects drivers.

The reality is that it's illegal in all 50 states to drive while impaired, whether the impairment is the result of marijuana use, consumption of alcohol or the use of prescription drugs or illegal narcotics.

But how do law enforcement officers measure just how much marijuana is too much for a driver to consume? To measure for alcohol content, officers can administer a breathalyzer test. If blood alcohol content is at 0.08 percent or above, that person is too impaired to drive; that's the standard in all states.

There's currently no such test and no legal threshold for marijuana. But a government researcher says there will soon be a saliva test to detect marijuana use. But that test will merely show that the driver has recently used marijuana, not that the driver is impaired.

One researcher said it's clear that marijuana use among drivers can be deadly. He said research shows "the terrible carnage out there on the roads caused by marijuana."

One recent review of studies showed that driving while high on marijuana nearly doubles the risk of being in a serious car wreck that can cause injuries or fatalities.

We're not taking a position on the merits of medical marijuana or legalization of pot, but we are strongly urging everyone to carefully examine all sides of the issue while weighing pros and cons.

Source: WXOW: "New wrinkle in pot debate: stoned driving," Kristen Wyatt, March 18, 2012

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