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Will Stoner Study Lead to Better Drugged Driving Laws in Illinois?

Meet Jimmy. Jimmy smoked a joint two days ago. Today, he crashed his car into a pole while listening to a classic Clarence Carter tune. If the officer reasonably suspects drugged driving due to Jimmy's attire (a t-shirt stating "Legalize it") and red eyes, Jimmy can be required to submit to a drug test. That drug test will probably find the remnants of Wednesday's weed in his system and he can then be convicted of drugged driving under Illinois law.

The problem with these per se drugged driving laws is that they lead to inaccurate results. Jimmy was not necessarily. The crime is driving while impaired. Then again, at this point, we aren't even scientifically sure what impaired means, at least in a marijuana context.

Our knowledge of the effect of cannabis on driving is surprisingly limited, reports The Associated Press. Studies have tested the effects of pot on divided attention tasks. Unsurprisingly, weed impaired the participants’ ability to concentrate on multiple things at once. Logically, that should mean that weed use will hurt subjects’ abilities to drive, as drivers have to watch the road, stay in their lanes, avoid other bad drivers, and turn off Clarence Carter. All at the same time.

However, actual studies on driving while under the influence of marijuana have not been done, according to researchers at the University of Iowa. Statistics provided by another NHTSA study showed that 16.3 percent of weekend nighttime drivers surveyed across 300 locations across the country were drug positive, mostly due to cannabis.

That’s a lot of weed in a lot of drivers on a lot of roads.

The University of Iowa stoner study will take twenty volunteers, ages 21 to 55, who are regular weed and alcohol users, and provide them with free high-quality federal research tools (i.e., marijuana) and then test their drugged driving abilities. Hopefully, the knowledge gained from the study will lead to more informed drugged driving laws.

Currently, 17 states have per se laws that simply require the presence of drugs in the driver’s system. Other states require proof of impairment before a conviction can be sustained. Of course, that brings its own set of problems, like defining impairment and trusting an officer’s judgment to determine impairment. Information from this study could help to determine guidelines for these officers.

If studys show little or no effect on driving, it will hopefully lead to changes in states with per se laws, such as Illinois. Should it show significant impairment at low levels of use, more states might jump on the per se bandwagon. The study could even lead to a legal limit, like the 0.08 limit for alcohol.

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