California’s new law legalizing the use of recreational marijuana went into effect Jan. 1. Hopefully, the negative impacts on highway safety experienced in some other states with similar laws will not be repeated here.
Using marijuana while driving remains strictly prohibited in California. The law prohibits smoking or ingesting marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle. Marijuana being carried in an automobile must be in a sealed container or locked in the trunk. And obviously, impaired driving caused by drugs or alcohol is illegal, and any accidents resulting from impaired driving that involve death, injury or property damage will result in severe legal penalties.
According to data compiled by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the state of Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, experienced a 40 percent increase in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana use from 2013 to 2016. Despite a public awareness campaign by the Colorado Department of Transportation, 55 percent of Colorado’s marijuana users reported they believed it was safe to drive while high. Among people who reported using marijuana in the last 30 days, half said they had driven high. And in the state of Washington, which also legalized marijuana in 2012, the AAA said in a report the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana more than doubled between 2013 and 2014.
I expect clarifying legislation to be passed this year to help law enforcement deal with drugged driving and will support giving law enforcement the necessary tools to address this serious issue. We take our lives and the safety of our loved ones in our hands every time we get behind the wheel. We should all agree that impaired driving, whatever the cause, will not be tolerated.
Minority Floor Leader Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, represents the 75th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes the communities of Bonsall, Escondido, Fallbrook, Hidden Meadows, Pala, Palomar Mountain, Pauma Valley, Rainbow, San Marcos, Temecula, Valley Center and Vista.