Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

Note: I do not manage DUI or drug offenses. These articles are just for informative purposes only. Please refer to my home page if you need help with moving violations!  

A Natural and Potentially Dangerous Distraction

On a rainy night in September, a bunch of college kids were heading south on the FDR Drive when the driver noticed a car about 500 feet ahead that appeared to be stopped. No doubt, any individual with a clear mind would have known to have slowed down, but this driver did not. Is that because this person was preoccupied and otherwise distracted with marijuana in his system? Oh yes! This was the case. 

Man driving and smoking pot
Photo: iStock Credit:smileitsmccheeze

For just those few seconds that have passed since he first noticed the stalled car, he essentially failed to remember that the car was not moving and subsequently, his vehicle came only feet away from slamming into the rear of the vehicle.

The fact that a car stopped on the FDR Drive is another story altogether since anyone who is familiar with this road would know this is not the road to pull over for any reason. But the facts are as they were and the two men who were pulling out their spare tire from the trunk almost lost their lives doing so, or at least possibly their legs had this pot-driving individual not screeched to a halt just before hitting them.

This was a fortunate case where there was no damage and no injuries to either party; however, the situation could have been terribly worse. 

Other situations are not as painless, as in a case where a young man was walking down a street in Brooklyn and was hit by a drunk driver, and had to have his left leg amputated. 

Getting behind the wheel while impaired from drugs or alcohol is dangerous, no matter which substance it is that is affecting your ability to drive. However, as more states are legalizing marijuana for recreational use, some drivers may feel inclined to get behind the wheel after smoking it. 

With that said, it should be noted that besides this individual smoking a couple of joints while he was driving, the car was also ‘smoked up’ with everyone else smoking it as well and could have very well led to this serious driving distraction.

So how much marijuana is needed to affect your cognitive thought processes? As of this date, this question is still debatable and the effects are different depending upon your health, age, and other physiological factors. But one thing is for sure as you will see below.

What are the Laws in New York State Regarding Marijuana and Driving?

The answer is quite simple: DON’T DO IT!

It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana in the entire state!

Here’s what can happen if you are caught driving under the influence of an illegal drug, including marijuana:

Fine for a first offense: $500 – $1000, up to 1 year in jail, and license revoked for at least six months. For a complete list of penalties for driving under the influence, check the dmv.ny.gov website.

What happens to Your Body When You Smoke Marijuana?

Man Smoking Marijuana
Photo by Artur Matosyan on Unsplash

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, with almost 22 million American people having smoked it in the last 30 days of any given time period. Cannabis plants contain a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the “high” sensation.

When marijuana is smoked, THC enters the bloodstream and is transported to the lungs where it is inhaled. The blood carries the THC to the rest of the body and then metabolizes it into the chemical compound 11-hydroxy-THC. This compound attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which are responsible for regulating emotion, cognition, senses, and motivation. These receptors are also found in other parts of the body, like the immune system, reproductive system, and digestive system.

What are the Effects of Smoking Marijuana While Driving?

Marijuana plant with sundown
Photo by manish panghal on Unsplash

Pot affects each person differently but in general, it can affect your body’s ability to perform critical tasks necessary for driving. The most obvious effects of driving stoned could include:

  • Impaired Judgement and Decision Making, Driving stoned can impair your judgment denying you the ability to make quick and rational decisions. A person who is high from marijuana may have trouble keeping their emotions in check and think that they can drive safely when they can’t.
  • Impaired Visual Perceptione.g. our story above. Marijuana can interfere with your visual perception, causing you to miss important details like changes in the road ahead or pedestrians crossing the street. It could even make it difficult to distinguish between red and green lights.
  • Impaired Coordination. Smoking pot can cause you to become clumsy and uncoordinated and make it more difficult to accelerate, brake, and even turn the car. 
  • Impaired Memory: Marijuana can cause extreme short-term memory loss. If you drive while high, you could forget where you are driving to and even forget to turn off the car when you arrive at your destination.

Is It More Dangerous to Drive High on Pot than Driving Drunk?

Marijuana is less lethal than alcohol when consumed in small amounts. Alcohol is metabolized in the body faster than THC. However, alcohol causes almost no impairment in cognition, whereas THC can cause significant impairment. The amount of THC in the blood has been shown to affect driving skills more than the amount in the blood. This is because THC is metabolized in the liver and can stay in the body and bloodstream for up to 30 days after the last use. This doesn’t mean to say that driving under the influence of alcohol is less dangerous. Studies have shown that DWI (DUI in other states) is extremely dangerous when behind the wheel! 

How is Marijuana Used for Driving Test Detection?

Blood tests are used by law enforcement officers in New York to discover whether a person has recently consumed drugs. These tests are usually administered in the field by a police officer following a traffic stop. The officer will use a device to test your blood. This test is the best indicator of recent drug use, but only if performed within eight hours after consuming marijuana. If you refuse the blood test, the police officer can give you a DWAI, driving while ability impaired summons.

Other tests can include:

  • Urine Test – This is the most common drug test and is used to detect recent drug use in the last 90 hours. However, this test can be difficult to interpret because it does not indicate the level of intoxication.
  • Saliva Test – This is a newer method that can detect marijuana use in the last 24 hours.

Final Words

Marijuana is becoming more popular each year, and as more states legalize its recreational use, the number of people driving under the influence of marijuana is also likely to increase. Driving while stoned can be dangerous and impair your ability to drive safely, but it’s difficult to know how much THC in the blood is too much.

A person’s ability to drive safely while under the influence of marijuana depends on many factors such as age, the amount of marijuana used, the individual’s health, whether other drugs were taken at the same time, and the method of ingestion. But in the State of New York, it is illegal to drive under the influence under any circumstances!  

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