Legal Marijuana Use and Driving Safety

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Recreational marijuana use in the state of New York is legal but there are a few caveats with which you need to be familiar.  According to the New York City Health Department, “It is now legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis for personal use in New York. Adults may smoke or vape cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is allowed under the smoke-free air laws, with a few exceptions.

Cannabis use is not allowed in motor vehicles (even if they are parked) or in outdoor dining areas at restaurants. Smoking or vaping cannabis in prohibited areas may result in a civil summons and fine.

It is still against the law for people younger than 21 years old to possess, sell or use any amount of cannabis. Also, no one may legally possess more than three ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of concentrated cannabis, sell any amount without a license, or drive while under the influence or impaired by cannabis.”

However, that leaves open the question of driver impairment.  How is the legal use of recreational marijuana reconciled with impairment like other intoxicating substances such as alcohol or prescription narcotics? 

While marijuana use has become increasingly mainstream in recent years, not all people have grasped the potential risks associated with cannabis-impaired driving, with years of research confirming the drug’s ability to inhibit attention, decision-making, coordination and reaction time.

recent survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that just 69% of respondents thought it was dangerous to drive after consuming cannabis, compared to 95% of respondents thinking it was dangerous to drive after consuming alcohol.

“Impaired driving, whether it involves alcohol, cannabis, other drugs or a combination of substances, is wreaking havoc on our nation’s roads, and we all must respond quickly and effectively,” said Darrin Grondel, Ed.D., vice president of Government Relations and Traffic Safety for Responsibility.org and Director of NASID.

According to one report that was published this summer, the consequences of driving under the influence of marijuana can be grave.

States that legalized recreational marijuana saw a subsequent increase in traffic crashes and fatalities, according to new research in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“The legalization of marijuana doesn’t come without cost,” says lead researcher Charles M. Farmer, Ph.D., of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Ruckersville, Va.

Farmer and colleagues’ analysis of five states that allow the recreational use of marijuana revealed a 5.8% increase in the rate of traffic crash injuries and a 4.1% increase in fatal crash rates after legalization and the onset of retail sales. The researchers found no increase in a comparison group of states that did not legalize the drug.

Overall, the initial jump in the injury rate occurred after legalization but before retail sales began. Traffic crash injuries rose 6.5% after legalization but decreased slightly (-0.7%) after retail sales commenced. However, fatal crashes increased both after legalization (+2.3%) and after retail sales were authorized (+1.8%).

Use of recreational marijuana may be legal in New York but that does not mean you are immune from the legal consequences if you’re involved in a car crash that causes injury.  Like alcohol, marijuana impairs motor function and can lead to disastrous consequences if you choose to drive after ingesting the substance. 

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