Prop 19 Raises Questions About Pot-Smoking Drivers

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Can people who smoke marijuana still drive safely? If pot is legalized this November, that question will have to be asked and answered in California.

Call it what you want: cruising on cannabis. Stoned steering. Safety experts say the bottom line is it remains to be seen whether there is a safe amount of pot a driver can smoke and still be safe on the road.

Pot advocate and Proposition 19 backer Jeff Jones thinks it is, in fact, possible for people to smoke pot and still be safe drivers.

“Cannabis is safer than alcohol,” he declared. “All the driving statistics show that when you use cannabis, you get slower and you get more calculated in what you do.”

If Proposition 19 passes, various marijuana-related activities will be legalized, and that has law enforcement officials wary about the potential impact on drivers throughout the state.

“Law enforcement doesn’t put a lot of resources into people possessing less than an ounce of marijuana unless they’re driving under the influence, which would increase if this passes. Or, if they’re creating other problems, which would happen if this passes,” warned Pleasant Hill Police Chief Pete Dunbar, who is against the proposition.

California’s blood alcohol limit is .08, which means it is possible for a driver to have a drink and still get behind the wheel of a car. However, there’s no such limit proposed for marijuana. Furthermore, there’s no way to determine how high a driver may be.

“There is no test like there’s a breathalyzer type test,” pointed out former Sutter County Sheriff Nate Bradley.

Blood tests can detect marijuana in your system for up to 30 days, but it’s not the type of test that can be performed during a traffic stop.

“People always say, well how do you determine what is under the influence of marijuana or not? And we always look, just like with alcohol and any other type of drug, there’s going to be physical circumstances that we look and it’s going to correspond to how they do on a physical sobriety test,” explained California Highway Patrol Officer Shawn Chase, who added that he has made plenty of arrests for people driving under the influence of marijuana, based on his observation.

Could a pot breathalyzer be far off? Perhaps not, if Proposition 19 passes.

“Once there’s a reason for it, it’ll be here,” said Oakland City Attorney John Russo. “There will be a demand for that, once that happens.”

The entire marijuana detection industry is likely to explode if Proposition 19 passes. State lawmakers, meanwhile, will have to determine some kind of legal marijuana limit, which opponents like Chief Dunbar said doesn’t exist behind the wheel.

“Marijuana is a mind-altering drug. Problems will go up. Right now we have scarce resources as it is in public safety,” he warned. “Now’s not the time for that.”

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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