police officer checking papers

Effect of Cannabis on Driving – Can You Smoke Weed and Drive?

Smoking weed and driving is never a good idea. Whether it is legal or not, being under the influence of any kind of strong medication or drug and in charge of several tons of metal is not a sound life choice.

The State of Arizona realizes this. That’s why Arizona DUI laws are tough. Very tough.

Whether you drink or smoke weed and drive – even if you have a valid medical marijuana card – the message here should always be that you are taking a serious risk, both legally and with your own life.

With that out of the way, let’s take a little look at the effects of cannabis on driving.

What Happens When You Smoke Weed?

Taking marijuana can have a number of positive effects:

  • You may feel more relaxed and happier
  • You may become more talkative
  • You may feel hungrier than usual
  • Music might sound more interesting and colors appear more intense
  • Time might feel as if it is passing more slowly

These are all potentially positive. But, on the downside, smoking weed can also:

  • Make you feel lethargic or sleepy
  • Cause your memory of events to suffer
  • Make you feel anxious, confused or paranoid

The combination of all of these effects makes it a very bad idea to drive after smoking weed. Most drivers will struggle to focus and have slower reflexes. Long-term users may find their ability to concentrate suffers even when not under the influence.

Arizona DUI Laws

Arizona has comparatively few drunk driving-related traffic deaths opposed to other states. This is largely because Arizona does not mess around when it comes to drunk driving legislation. The state has what is known as the “Zero Tolerance Law”.

This means that things will not go well for you – and the state will try to prosecute you as hard as possible – if you are driving and:

  1. You have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more.
  2. You are a commercial vehicle driver and you have a BAC of 0.04% or more.
  3. You are under 21 and have any amount of alcohol in your system.

These laws are nice and clear with set figures for how much alcohol you can legally have. Things get slightly less clear when it comes to drugs, however.

That’s why it’s generally best to avoid smoking weed and driving altogether…

man looking in the rear view mirror

Can You Smoke Weed and Drive?

If you smoke weed and drive, you still fall under the Zero Tolerance Law if:

  1. You are impaired “to the slightest degree” while driving under the influence of any drug.
  2. You have any amount of certain drugs in your systems, including cannabis.
  3. You have marijuana metabolites in your system (a metabolite is the metabolized form of a substance after your body has processed it).

The only exception to the Zero Tolerance Law is that if you are on prescribed medication such as medical marijuana and you have your medical card with you.

Still, a marijuana medical card does not make you completely immune to the law. The only thing it allows you to do is to offer an affirmative defense if you are able to prove that you have low enough levels of cannabis metabolites in your system that you were not impaired.

If you cannot prove this – even if you took your legally-prescribed medical marijuana many hours ago and cannot currently feel any effects – you can be charged with a DUI even while you feel sober.

That said, if you can prove you have legal permission, you have never broken any rules relating to medical marijuana use in Arizona and you were not under the influence, then you have a good chance of a successful defense.

What Can a Breathalyzer Detect?

scales of justice

As mentioned previously, you will probably want to err on the side of caution by not taking marijuana and driving. After all, there is no need to worry whether a breathalyzer can detect drugs if you have no drugs in your system.

But the need for law enforcement officers to check whether people are abiding by the rules means that there are various drug detection methods currently in operation:

1) Breathalyzer

A standard breathalyzer cannot detect cannabis.

There are some companies who are attempting to develop a breathalyzer for marijuana, but so far without much success.

The science of the situation makes it very difficult to have a test which could be administered as easily as a breathalyzer for alcohol can be.

2) THC testing

Some states legislate a level of THC (TetraHydroCannabinol is the main psychoactive part of cannabis) which it is permissible for you to have in your bloodstream while driving.

THC levels require a blood or urine test to detect. But that’s not the major problem with the idea:

  1. There is no clearly defined relationship between THC levels and the amount a person is impaired, such as there is with blood alcohol levels.
  2. Most legislated THC standards are essentially guesses because of this.
  3. THC can stay in your bloodstream for several weeks after you imbibe it.

3) Saliva testing

This is a kind of test which Canadian law enforcement officers are using on drivers. It currently isn’t used in the US, which is probably a good thing as it doesn’t seem to work perfectly as yet.

4) Field sobriety tests

Some states – California for example – have instituted field sobriety tests where a police officer will have training to essentially look at a driver and see if they are impaired.

The downside of this kind of purely subjective testing is that, despite the best efforts of the officers involved, it is subject to racial bias and a wide range of other discrimination and problems.

The Effects of Cannabis on Driving

A breathalyzer may not be able to detect cannabis and no other easy and effective roadside testing method currently exists. Arizona’s Zero Tolerance Law is in place to prevent people from acting irresponsibly.

But whether it is legal or not, there is no reason to think that smoking weed and driving is a good idea.

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