As noted recently in an article in the Elko Daily Free Press, Nevada lawmakers have a number of probing questions likely for the 2021 state legislative session, dealing with the subject of persons driving under the influence of marijuana.
An interim legislative committee was to look at some of the issues at a meeting held last week in Las Vegas.
The Free Press article stated committee members “will try to get a handle on the scope of marijuana-involved driving, and discuss protocols for testing whether someone is under the influence.”
According to the article, recreational marijuana became legal in Nevada Jan. 1, 2017. Medical marijuana had been legalized two years earlier.
As yet, however, no Nevada Offense Codes have been set up to identify charges of marijuana-impaired driving, or to separate alcohol from prohibited substances.
The Nevada Department of Public Safety reports there has been little done in the way of “collection and reporting on marijuana-impaired driving.”
The 2021 legislative committee was to have reviewed a 2014 article by Arnold M. Knight in the RJ that stated it is “much more difficult” to determine whether a motorist is under the influence of marijuana than it is for alcohol.
There appears to be growing support among lawmakers, prosecutors and marijuana advocates for developing some standard of impairment beyond a blood test that simply measures a person’s THC level.
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said it definitely is harder to determine whether a motorist is under the influence of marijuana rather than alcohol. “It has been one of the big, big challenges we have run into,” Lee said, “More so than anyone really thought it would be. On a stop for suspected DUI you can perform a preliminary breath test and get an idea of their impairment. But with marijuana there is no breath test, either preliminary or full-scale; it’s blood or urine only.”
He said that it could take months to receive the results of blood tests even after a person is charged.
Although advocates for legalizing marijuana stated there would not be an increase of marijuana DUIs, Lee said there has most definitely been a sharp rise.
According to a new study, reported recently by Columbia University in New York City, fatal car crashes involving marijuana have tripled during the past decade, which may be responsible for the increase in impaired driving accidents in recent years.
The Nevada Department of Public Safety reported that road fatalities involving only marijuana jumped 70 percent from 2016 to 2017, then went down slightly from 2017 to 2018. The new report looked at fatal crashes across the state from 2016, 2017 and 2018.
At least one marijuana-influenced traffic fatality occurred in Las Vegas in Dec. 2018.
“It is not legal to drive under the influence of whatever it is,” Lee said. “Something is going to have to be done.”