February 14, 2016

Driving Under the Influence – Are you Too Stoned to Drive?

"Well there goes my high!"


I just finished a piece where a Saskatchewan driver was acquitted on impaired driving charges even though she admitted to using marijuana before she drove. It brought several questions to the judge’s mind:

  1. What signs of impairment would one expect to see in someone who has been using marijuana?
  2. How long after using marijuana would you expect to see these signs and how long would they last?
  3. Can the results of drug evaluation tests taken over 1½ hours after the time of driving be reliably related back to the time the woman was stopped?
  4. Was the woman’s performance in some of the tests an indication of poor balance or poor coordination?

It should be noted that this woman was stopped at a checkpoint. She had not exhibited any erratic driving. She was polite and accommodating when the officer requested her paperwork and conversed with him normally.

But she couldn’t touch her nose…and that’s where we enter the wild and crazy land of field sobriety tests where even the creator of these tests (Marcelline Burns) concluded that there is no direct correlation between field sobriety tests and impaired driving.

From my personal experience, I’ve watched a friend ace a field sobriety test while very intoxicated and another acquaintance fail it miserably after two drinks. If you asked me to say the alphabet backward, I’d get stuck somewhere around X.

So where do pot smokers fall in this spectrum? Obviously, alcohol affects your equilibrium far more than marijuana. But can you be too stoned to drive?

According to one study:

Both levels of THC cigarettes significantly affected the subjects in a dose-dependent manner. The moderate dose of alcohol and the low THC dose were equally detrimental to some of the driving abilities, with some differences between the two drugs. THC primarily caused elevation in physical effort and physical discomfort during the drive while alcohol tended to affect sleepiness level. After THC administration, subjects drove significantly slower than in the control condition, while after alcohol ingestion, subjects drove significantly faster than in the control condition. No THC effects were observed after 24 h on any of the measures.

After reading several other studies, I can’t help but wonder whose behind them. Certain findings just seem so radically unlikely (such as performance levels being affected 24 hours after smoking marijuana or that some effects of marijuana were on par with those under the influence of alcohol.) And then there’s more comprehensive studies that prove that drunk driving fatalities are less in states where marijuana is legal. (Because apparently, people will substitute marijuana for alcohol.)

Personally, I don’t think one should drive right after smoking pot. No, I don’t think your reaction time is that drastically affected but you are under the influence of a drug and hell, driving high just isn’t that enjoyable (to me). An hour or two later? Yes, I would, without thinking twice. Because most of us know, we’re capable of driving after smoking.

My bigger concern is this: in our increasingly over-reaching militaristic world, what kind of new laws will be enacted in order to target marijuana smokers? (Because heck, no one really cares about those cocaine-induced road ragers or asleep-at-the-wheel heroin-addicts, right? We can’t catch them easily with a piss test, so let’s let those seriously impaired folks off the hook.) Do we really want the police to obtain any more power to bully citizens? Will we have to take an “on the spot” swab test that will (again) unfairly target marijuana users? (You know, we’re about this close to that happening.)

Driving while stoned does not seem like a great idea. But driving after taking a couple Valiums doesn’t sound that wise either and I’m sure the “authorities” have no problem with that. This Canadian judge actually asked some smart questions and kudos to him for not doing the “throw the book at her” routine.

P.S. What about the really old people? Do we think for one second that some of our older citizens could pass these field sobriety tests? Where I live, they pose the most danger. The only fender bender I’ve ever had was when an elderly woman slammed on her brakes in the middle of a highway (55 mph) because she couldn’t merge into the right lane. I rear-ended her and was held entirely responsible. I’d trust a pot smoker over an 80 year-old with the beginnings of dementia any day of the week.



Beth Mann is a popular blogger and writer for Open Salon and Salon. She is also an accomplished artist with over 15 years of experience, as well as the president of Hot Buttered Media. She currently resides at the Jersey shore where she can be found surfing or singing karaoke at a local dive bar.

Contact: maryjane {at } freedomisgreen.com



  1. Look my favorite time to drive is while i am high. i pay more attention to the rules. and my point is pot never killed anyone in the world in history. really!! not one single report. not even in a car wreck. but everyother drug or alchol has devistated our communities and loved ones. its time for the us goverment to wise up and legalize marijaunna. Just imagine the revenu and all the happy ppl there would be. Our jails wouldnt be over populated with pot dealers and occasional smokers it would finally be dedicated the the real criminals like murderers and rapist that seem to be able to walk around america tormenting us with there presence. economically we would be able rise out of this debt. and create more jobs for all. its not going to solve world hunger (though it may cause it) or stop the war over patroleoum. it could solve some of the most important issues our country has faced in the last 100 years.


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