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How Would Medical Marijuana Legality Affect S.C. Roadways?

Some South Carolina lawmakers are pushing for the state to join 16 others in legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. Two states—Colorado and Washington—have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In South Carolina, however, these recent efforts have failed despite the fact that a 1980s law technically permits cannabis to be provided within the state.

Before medical marijuana is legalized in South Carolina, it is important to consider the impact that stoned drivers could have on road safety statewide. A recent ABA Journal article discusses the difficulty of effectively regulating stoned driving to minimize the risk of collisions caused by those who are impaired by cannabis. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are drivers on the roads who have consumed or inhaled marijuana and who are not safe to operate their vehicles.

WBTW reported on a South Carolina law passed in 1980, Section 44-53-650, which gives the director of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) the authority to “obtain marijuana” though the means most appropriate under federal law. The direction can then “cause” the marijuana to be transferred to “various locations throughout the state” in order to distribute it to “patients in such manner as is consistent with federal law.”

DHEC has not ever obtained or distributed marijuana, both because federal law still prohibits the use of medicinal and recreational marijuana, and because growing and distributing marijuana to patients would impose a burdensome cost on the state.

The 1980s law doesn’t help those who claim to need marijuana to treat medical conditions, and Rep. Todd Rutherford recently tried to amend a state bill to add marijuana to the list of drugs that South Carolina doctors could prescribe. His effort, as well as other recent attempts by lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina, was unsuccessful.

Recent news about stoned driving statistics may not help the cause of those who are pushing for marijuana legalization. According to the FDL Reporter, the share of Colorado drivers involved in deadly collisions testing positive for marijuana more than doubled in the period between 2004 and 2011. Further, after marijuana was made legal in Washington, almost 25 percent more motorists tested positive for THC in their bloodstream as compared with the number of positive tests before cannabis products were legalized.

Both Washington and Colorado have attempted to regulate stoned driving by setting a legal limit of 5 nanograms of active THC in a driver’s bloodstream. If a driver has more than this amount, he or she is considered over the limit and impaired.

Unfortunately, ABA Journal reports that setting maximum THC limits may not be the most effective way to tell if someone is impaired. Studies have shown that a person who has consumed cannabis products will have the highest THC concentration 10 minutes after taking the drug, but will have the highest level of euphoria a full 30 minutes after having consumed it.

Developing an effective way to regulate stoned drivers is key to keeping people safe as marijuana becomes more widely accepted. Victims of collisions with impaired drivers need to know their rights, and a Charleston accident lawyer may be consulted for help. Contact Howell & Christmas for assistance and request a free consultation.

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