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Marijuana Impairment an Increasing Threat in West Palm Beach Roads

A recent study showing a dramatic increase in the number traffic fatalities involving drivers who smoke marijuana is sure to provide ammunition to those opposing a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, which goes before Florida voters in November.

Our West Palm Beach accident attorneys are experienced in handling the often very difficult cases brought by those seeking compensation for injuries caused by drivers impaired by drugs and alcohol.

The Columbia University study examined the prevalence of drugs other than alcohol found in drivers who died in car crashes from 1999 to 2010. In 2010, 12.2 percent of drivers who died within an hour of a crash tested positive for marijuana. In 1999, only 4.2 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for pot.

“Given the increasing availability of marijuana and the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic, understanding the role of controlled substances in motor vehicle crashes is of significant public health importance,” said Professor Guohua Li, director of the Columbia Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention.

While marijuana-related deaths tripled from 1999 to 2010, the overall number of non-alcoholic drug fatalities merely doubled. Bolstering the conclusion that “drugged driving” is playing an increased role in fatal auto accidents is the fact that the prevalence of alcohol-related fatalities remained relatively stable over the same period.

The study examined toxicology data obtained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from six states: California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

Of the 23,591 driver fatalities addressed in the study, 39.7 percent tested positive for alcohol. Non-alcoholic drugs were found in 24.8 percent of the drivers. Alcohol was detected in a higher percentage of male drivers (43.6 percent) than female drivers (26.1 percent).

Notably, the dramatic rise in marijuana-related fatalities was found across all age groups and regardless of sex.

The lead author of the study was Joanne Brady, who is seeking a PhD in epidemiology at Columbia.

Brady suggested that the increase in the number of fatalities among pot-using drivers was related to the growing decriminalization of marijuana. In recent years, 20 states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana. Four more state legislatures are considering bills that would decriminalize marijuana.

“Although each of these states has laws that prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana, it is still conceivable that its decriminalization may result in increases in crashes involving marijuana,” Brady said.

This is serious food for thought for voters in Florida. A constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana will appear on the November ballot.

Under a ballot initiative sponsored by the advocacy group People United for Medical Marijuana, the Florida Constitution would be amended to provide that the “medical use of marijuana by a qualifying patient or personal caregiver is not subject to criminal or civil liability.”

Opponents tried to keep the measure from being on the November ballot, contending that the language of the proposed amendment would open the door to widespread marijuana use.

But the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that the ballot initiative satisfied state law.

“Voters are given fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain ‘debilitating’ medical conditions,” the court said in a 4-3 decision.

If you have been injured, contact Freeman Injury Law at 800.561.7777.

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