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Many Driving on Pot, Even With Kids in the Car

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 25, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Many people may drive with marijuana in their system — even when they have kids in the car.

That’s the upshot of a new study of drivers in Washington state, where recreational pot is legal.

In roadside tests of more than 2,000 drivers, researchers found that 14% of those with a child in the car tested positive for THC, the component that creates marijuana’s “high.”

In contrast, only 0.2% of people driving with a child tested positive for alcohol on breath tests. None had levels above the legal limit.

Researchers stressed, however, that people with THC in their systems were not necessarily driving while stoned.

A positive THC test simply means the person has recently used pot.

Still, the possibility that some of those drivers were impaired is concerning, said study co-author Angela Eichelberger, a researcher with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It’s not clear how often marijuana use contributes to traffic accidents, according to Eichelberger, because it’s a tricky question to study. In the “real world,” she noted, drivers who test positive for THC often have used other substances, too. They also tend to be young, which is in itself a risk factor for crashes.

But, Eichelberger said, controlled lab studies have shown that marijuana interferes with driving skills.

“Cannabis can be impairing,” she said, though there is “no consensus” on what is the impairment threshold. How much can a person consume before it’s unsafe to drive? How long should you wait to get behind the wheel after using marijuana?

The form in which people use marijuana also matters: The effects of edible products take longer to set in compared to smoking, Eichelberger noted.

For now, she said, it makes sense for people to avoid driving if they are feeling any effects from their marijuana use. She also suggested people “err on the side of caution,” and make sure they will not be driving anytime soon after using the drug.

J.T. Griffin is chief government affairs officer for the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He was not involved with the study.

Continued

“I think the big, remaining question is: Are these people driving while impaired?” Griffin said.

With more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, it will be important to answer some fundamental questions, according to Griffin.

“We’ll need to figure out what marijuana impairment looks like — and how to test for it,” he said.

Griffin agreed that people who are feeling the effects of marijuana should not get behind the wheel. He pointed to the latest safety campaign from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is targeting not only drunken driving but high driving. The slogan is: “If you feel different, you drive different.”

The findings, published online April 24 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, are based on 2,056 drivers in Washington state. Researchers approached the drivers at stop lights and asked them to participate. Volunteers gave breath, saliva and blood samples.

Overall, drivers were much more likely to test positive for THC than alcohol: Of those driving without kids in the car, almost 18% tested positive for THC, while 4.5% had alcohol in their systems.

Of adults who were driving with children, 0.2% tested positive for some amount of alcohol, while 14% tested positive for THC.

The upshot, according to Eichelberger, was that having children in the car seemed to deter drinking. But it didn’t make a statistical difference in the likelihood of detecting THC.

Washington voters approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2012. As other states consider the same, Eichelberger said, they might want to weigh the possible impact on impaired driving.

Other research, she said, has found a “small increase” in crash rates in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

It’s not clear from the study how often marijuana use contributes to traffic accidents, but controlled lab studies have shown that pot interferes with driving skills.

No smoking, and other rules to know about weed in your car

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3 people have been charged in N.L. this week alone with improper storage of cannabis

Law enforcement, employers, suppliers and others have cautioned there will be a bit of a “learn as we go” reality when it comes to navigating issues related to cannabis now that it’s legal.

One of those new issues arose this week: how do you bring weed along when travelling in your car?

This week, the Burin Peninsula RCMP said two people had been charged for not having cannabis properly sealed in their vehicle. A 21-year-old woman from Garnish and her passenger, a 20-year-old man from Marystown, faced a charge under the Cannabis Control Act.

These appeared to be among the first charges of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador, based on media releases from police.

Another traffic stop a couple of days later, this time in Pasadena, saw a Little Rapids woman charged with having “open cannabis” in her car, according to the RCMP. She was also charged with buying the drug from someone other than a licensed retailer.

Skunk in the trunk

Cannabis has to be in its original packaging with an unbroken seal in order to be permitted in a car.

But what about when it’s not a brand-new package?

As an example, you purchase weed from a licensed retailer. You drive home from the store with it, in its sealed package. You open it, smoke some of it, then put the rest away. Later, you’re heading out to a friend’s house and want to take those leftovers along, but the package has been opened and the seal has been broken.

In that case, it has to be in the trunk of your car or a rooftop carrier — something that makes it not readily available to people in the car. This is similar to rules around so-called open alcohol, or booze in which the original seal has been broken.

There is an exception — when you’ve paid to travel on a bus or in a taxi.

The exact wording in the Cannabis Control Act is, “A person shall not drive or have the care or control of a vehicle or a boat, whether it is in motion or not, with cannabis in the vehicle or boat unless . the cannabis is in the possession of a passenger who is being transported, for compensation, in a bus or taxi.”

And of course, you’re not allowed to smoke or otherwise consume any cannabis inside a car, bus or taxi, regardless of whether it’s moving or not. The only exception is if you’re using that vehicle as a dwelling, like a motor home.

But even then, if you’re on a private campground, you need permission from the property owner to smoke.

Three people have already been charged for improperly storing marijuana in a vehicle. Don't be the next.