Legal Cannabis and Driving: 5 Things to Know

Once upon a time, there were no laws against driving under the influence of alcohol. There were no regulations or parameters that people had to follow. Moreover, there was not even an agreement among people that alcohol-impaired driving or what was the acceptable amount to drink while being behind the wheel.

Now we teach everybody from an early age and especially when young people are learning to drive that sitting behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol is a very irresponsible thing to so. The same can be said for driving under the influence of cannabis or more commonly known as marijuana or pot.

Even though cannabis is legal in some states and countries around the world, driving under the influence is not a good idea. After all, drinking alcohol is also legal but driving with a blood alcohol content above a legal limit is not.

How much does cannabis impact your driving skills?

The short answer is nobody knows exactly.

According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on marijuana-impaired driving, currently, nobody has come up with a solution on how to measure how high someone is. There is no such tool that can pick up the level of “highness” for any person. This means it is very hard to say for sure how much cannabis has an impact on one’s driving abilities. It also might be different for every person.

According to research using driving simulations, researchers believe that cannabis can cause impairment with things like reaction time, tracking ability, target detection, divided attention, risk-taking, and more. So even though there is no definite proof of how exactly cannabis causes impairment, it is certain that it has the potential to be dangerous.

Is it as dangerous as driving drunk?


When compared to driving drunk, driving under the influence of cannabis is much less dangerous since there is one big difference that tends to occur.

Drunk people usually underestimate how drunk they are and are more likely to drive faster and to be more reckless. High people usually overestimate the influence that the cannabis has over them and tend to drive extra slowly, not get close to cars in front of them, and take much less risk. What’s more, some studies even state that marijuana-influenced drivers only have a bit less of reaction time than sober drivers. Nevertheless, the driver’s response time is still very much influenced.

How do police detect marijuana while pulling over people?

Since there is no tool that can spot the level of drugs that are in somebody’s system equivalent to the breathalyzer, the police have to rely on other tests and authorize drug testing when they assess that it’s necessary. When pulled over, if the police officer suspects you’re high, he or she will do a visual inspection and can ask a driver to do a standardized sobriety test. Police might also evaluate a driver’s eyes (whether they’re red or dilated), do a coordination challenge, and request blood or urine tests. You can be charged with marijuana-impaired driving or DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) even though it is difficult to detect whether you are under the influence.

What are the symptoms of impairment?

A person may have any or all of the following: red or bloodshot eyes, delayed reaction time, confusion, poor coordination, a feeling of anxiety or panic, dizziness, tiredness, fast heart rate, distorted picture of surroundings, and even hallucinations in extreme cases.

What should you do if you’re high and you are with your car?

If you are impaired by marijuana, do not drive your vehicle. It is better to leave your car wherever it is than to risk your life and the life of others on the roads.

If you are with a driver that you know is impaired, don’t get in the car with them.

Plan ahead before consuming cannabis! Make sure that when you are driving all the effects of cannabis are gone, which is approximately four hours after smoking.

Even if you feel okay, your ability to react is affected and one split second can put you and others in a life or death situation.

In conclusion, if you are legally using cannabis, we urge you to do it responsibly and to avoid painting a wrong picture about weed in general. Driving under any substance that impairs you, can not only hurt you but also it can hurt the innocent people that are also using the roadway.

Mary Walton is a professional editor, content strategist and a part of NCSM team. Apart from writing, Mary is passionate about hiking and gaming. Feel free to contact her via Facebook.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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One Response to “Legal Cannabis and Driving: 5 Things to Know”

  1. Greg says:

    Until thirty years ago, I’d head into the woods while skiing and get baked, get back out on the trail and ski bumps, no problem. I know people who still do this. The motor skills and mental processing while skiing bumps is orders of magnitude more complex than driving.

    Next, let’s hear how smoking tobacco and drive mix or not.