The growing acceptance and availability of marijuana in the U.S. has led to more drivers hitting the road high, according to the new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people who acknowledged operating a motor vehicle after consuming marijuana rose 47 percent in a four-year span. The most recent national estimates of drivers who operate a car under the influence of marijuana put the numbers in the millions.
The report was based on data from a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The findings are concerning for public health professionals, who call driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs a “growing concern.” THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, affects parts of the brain that control movement, balance, coordination, memory, and judgment. Earlier studies have shown that using marijuana can seriously alter a driver’s perception, reaction time, and ability to think clearly.
According to the results of the study, 12 million American adults said they had driven under the influence of marijuana in the 12 months prior to the survey. That breaks down to 4.7 percent of Americans driving under the influence of weed. In 2014, that number was 3.2 percent. Still, the number is much lower than the 20.5 million (8 percent) who admitted driving while under the influence of alcohol in 2018,
The report found the demographic most likely to drive under the influence of marijuana are non-Hispanic multiracial persons at 9.2 percent. Male drivers were more likely to report using marijuana than female drivers. The people most likely to report using pot before driving were people in the 21-25 age group, followed by people between the age of 16 and 20, the youngest category of drivers to qualify for a license.
Marijuana presents a challenge for law enforcement because there is no reliable way to test blood or saliva for whether someone is high. There are no national standards or standardized tests for marijuana-impaired drivers like there are for drunk drivers. Scientists are hard at work trying to create new toxicology tests to test for drug-impaired driving, but no solution appears to be immediately on the horizon.