After last week’s article regarding biking under the influence (BUI), I was asked by several readers about the legality of operating a vehicle while stoned. For many years, scientists have tested the impact of marijuana on driving performance. It has long been believed that delta-9-tetrahydocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, impairs a person’s ability similar to alcohol. These researchers found THC disrupts coordination, judgment, perception, and reaction time. Accordingly, they concluded that driving with THC in the blood would increase the risk of accidents.
Given the increased permissibility and accessibility of marijuana throughout America, questions regarding the impact of marijuana use on driving performance have once again resurfaced. As scientific research on this issue has gained momentum in recent years, it turns out we may not have as much to fear as we once believed. It is now widely understood a person’s level of intoxication is affected by various factors, including plant strain, cultivation technique, mode of harvest, and route of ingestion. As it relates to plant strain, for instance, research has shown the Indica strain is used to relieve anxiety, pain, and cause sedation, which would lead to drowsiness. Sativa strains, on the other hand, produce an uplifting and cerebral high that is typically very energizing and stimulating.
Most research has shown that marijuana, when taken alone, produces a moderate degree of driving impairment which is directly related to the consumed THC dose. The impairment manifests itself in the ability to maintain a steady lateral position on the road but its magnitude is not exceptional in comparison with changes produced by many medicinal drugs and alcohol. Many scientists now believe drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and compensate by slowing down on increasing effort. Accordingly, THC’s adverse effects appear relatively small.
Unfortunately, this topic is no longer just academic in nature. Six months ago, voters in Colorado approved Amendment 64, making it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to use or possess marijuana for any purpose. The law did not make it legal to smoke pot and operate a vehicle. To the contrary, Colorado continues to criminalize the operation of any vehicle under the influence of or impaired by drugs or alcohol. Moreover, Colorado has defined “vehicle” as any “device that is capable of moving itself, or of being moved, from place to place upon wheels or endless tracks.” Bikes are therefore considered vehicles in the eyes of the law and stoned cyclists are subject to the same criminal penalties as motorists, including jail time and fines.
As a Denver bike accident attorney, I cannot help but imagine a situation where the influence of marijuana might have a dangerous effect. There is no doubt emergency situations requires alertness and the driver must have the ability to control a two-ton machine. Unfortunately, none of the research has tested the effects of marijuana as it relates to cycling. Would a police officer actually stop a cyclist under suspicion of operating a vehicle while intoxicated on marijuana for riding calmly at a slow rate of speed? While it may seem far-fetched, the reality is that operating a vehicle while stoned is illegal and police have the ability to make arrests.
Riding while intoxicated on marijuana also exposes a cyclist to liability in a civil case involving a personal injury. Evidence of intoxication can lay a foundation for a defense of contributory negligence in the event a cyclist is injury after an accident and bring an action for damages. Thus, cyclists must be cognizant of their level of intoxication and refrain from riding if marijuana is in their system. If you have been involved in a bike v. auto accident, contact a Denver bike accident attorney for a free consultation.