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Will Virginia see an increase in DUIs if it decriminalizes pot?

In pairing with scientific research, some states have made historic changes to their criminal codes and have decriminalized and regulated marijuana within their jurisdictions. Now with groups like the Virginia National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Smoke the Vote pushing for legalization of the drug in our state, some are starting to wonder if Virginia could follow suit in coming years.

If our state does decide to decriminalize marijuana, we may soon have a problem on our hands, though, say some staunch opponents. The problem is drugged driving. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Perhaps that’s why, under our state’s DUI laws, any person found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be charged with a DUI.

So, if Virginia legalizes marijuana, will we see an increase in the number of impaired driving accidents? The jury is still out on this one because while there does appear to be a link between THC concentration in the bloodstream and impairment, each person is affected by marijuana differently, explains the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There is also no single concentration level that indicates absolute impairment, as can be seen by looking at the difference between how chronic users and first-time users react to the drug.

What we can say is that if our state does decide to legalize marijuana, it’s unlikely our DUI law will change. This means driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will still be considered a crime. As is the case already, it will be up to an officer’s discretion to determine whether a person is too impaired to operate a vehicle and should be charged with a DUI. This will continue to be an issue for Virginia drivers – one that is best handled by a skilled criminal defense attorney.

Sources: NBC 12 News, “‘Smoke the Vote’ campaign pushes to legalize marijuana in VA,” Chris Thomas, Nov. 5, 2015

WSLS News, “VA NORML works with local lawmakers on decriminalizing marijuana,” Dike Carter, Oct. 22, 2015

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Does Marijuana use affect driving?” Accessed Nov. 10, 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Cannabis / Marijuana,” Accessed Nov. 10, 2015

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