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Does Legalized Marijuana Use Increase the Risk of a Crash?

April 25, 2022

Recent polls show that more than 68 percent of adults today support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. According to 2020 Census Bureau statistics, more than 145 million Americans already live in a state where the recreational use of marijuana is legal.

In 2016, Nevada also passed laws legalizing marijuana – these laws went into effect on January 1, 2017. More than five years and 18 states later, how has this law impacted traffic safety? Does legalized marijuana use increase the risk of a crash?

Bernstein & Poisson discuss what you should know about the legal use of marijuana and driving in Nevada. If you were injured in a crash by an impaired driver, you may be eligible to seek compensation for your injuries. Despite marijuana being legal, a driver who was impaired by this substance could still be found liable for a crash.

Discuss your legal options with one of our licensed Las Vegas car crash lawyers in a free and confidential case review. Our intake staff is available to take your call any time, night or day.

Legalized Marijuana and Crash Risks – Are They Related?

The short answer is yes, at least to some degree. To learn more about how legalized marijuana impacts traffic safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started a study in 2014. Surveys taken between 2008 and 2019 revealed that the self-reported use of marijuana has doubled since it was first legalized, from six percent to 12 percent.

The goal of this latest study, however, was to compare crash rates and insurance claims of legalized western states to western states where recreational marijuana is still illegal. Here is what they found:

Crash Rates Spiked

In the first of the two IIHS studies, from 2008-2018, test results show fatal injuries and crash rates spiked in the most recent states to legalize marijuana:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Nevada

Injury crash rates in these states rose overall by 6.6 percent, and fatal crash rates by four percent when compared to other Western states that had legalized marijuana.

Yet in a second study, which covered years through 2019, the IIHS looked at the same numbers. Specifically, the focus was on crash rates when marijuana became legal and again when retail sales started. Those numbers in Nevada were a little less compared to other western states when they first legalized marijuana.

Nevada’s decrease following the initial jump in crash rates may be due to better enforcement, effective public campaigns about responsible use of marijuana, and doing a better job of preventing access to minors.

Insurance Claims Also Increased

Collision insurance claims increased by four percent in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Nevada.

How Marijuana Affects Drivers

According to the CDC, marijuana has a dangerous impact on a person’s ability to drive safely. Largely, this is due to the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana. It can have a mind-altering effect on parts of the brain that control judgement, perception, body movements, coordination, balance and memory.

As such, drivers under the influence of marijuana may:

  • Have a harder time paying attention to the road
  • Drift in and out of their own lane of traffic
  • Make multiple driver errors that could lead to a crash
  • React slower when faced with road hazards
  • Have difficulty making decisions while driving

Studies show drivers impaired by marijuana may be more likely to drive slower and leave more space from the car in front of them. They are also less likely to try to overtake other drivers. This does not make them safer on the road, however, as their driving abilities are still impaired.

Another important point of the study is that recreational use of legalized marijuana may be less of an issue than how people choose to use it. Currently, for instance, many recreational users combine marijuana with alcohol. These two substances together are significantly more dangerous if drivers get behind the wheel.

Is it Legal to Drive While Under the Influence of Marijuana?

Using marijuana for recreational or medical purposes is legal in Nevada. However, driving while under the influence of marijuana is not. Much like drinking alcohol, residents who use marijuana must follow state laws. Drivers are responsible for ensuring their actions do not put others at risk.

What Are Nevada’s State Laws for Marijuana Use and Driving?

There are a few facts people should know about medicinal and recreational use of marijuana within the state of Nevada.

What Are Nevada’s Laws on Possession?

Adults, 21 years and older, may legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana or 1/8 ounce of cannabis concentrate in a private residence. However, unless you are a legal vendor, you cannot possess greater amounts on your person or property.

It is only legal to purchase cannabis is from a licensed dispensary, and marijuana can only be used in a private residence.

If you have a medical marijuana card, and you are approved ahead of time to do so, you may grow plants on your property. Patients must have a doctor’s certification. The legal amount for an approved medical marijuana patient is 2.5 ounces of marijuana or 12 marijuana plants.

Where Can You Legally Consume Marijuana in Nevada?

What may confuse many people is why marijuana is still a schedule 1 drug, which technically makes it illegal under federal law. It is for this reason, however, that marijuana may not be used on federal public property in Nevada, such as national parks or military bases. It may also not be consumed in any public areas, including hotel rooms, casinos or at concerts.

What Does the Law Say About Using Marijuana and Driving?

Under state law, driving is illegal while under the influence of marijuana or any substance that impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. This means whether you are impaired because of medicinal marijuana or recreational marijuana, you should not drive.

Does Having a Medical Marijuana Card Protect You From Getting a DUI?

Drivers who have a valid medical marijuana card do not get any special protection in Nevada. Even those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes owe a duty of care to others on the road.

Anyone who drives while under the influence, as defined by Nevada’s DUI laws, can receive a ticket and other penalties. This includes patients who regularly use medicinal marijuana.

What Are Nevada’s Penalties for Impaired Drivers?

Even first-time offenders face serious penalties for driving while impaired by marijuana, which include:

  • Two days and up to six months in jail OR
  • 24 to 96 hours of community service
  • Hefty fines ($400 to $1,000)
  • Associated court costs
  • Suspension of your driver’s license for 185 days OR
  • Driving with an ignition interlock device
  • Attending Nevada DUI School (an additional cost to the offender)
  • And more

Drivers should never risk getting behind the wheel while impaired by any substance.

Injured By an Impaired Driver? Call Our Law Firm for Help You Can Trust

If an impaired driver causes you to suffer injuries in a car crash, you may be eligible to seek compensation for your damages.

The experienced legal team at Bernstein & Poisson is prepared to help. Contact our firm anytime, night or day, to schedule a free and confidential case review. We are ready to answer your questions and help you understand your legal options.

If we find you have a case and we represent you, there is nothing to pay us up front. We also do not collect our fees while we work on your case. We only get paid if we are successful in winning compensation for you.

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