Dagga and its effects on driving and road safety

Legalisation of Marijuana

Just when the directives on driving under the influence of alcohol, or any narcotic drug, have justifiably become increasingly stringent in order to prevent unnecessary trauma, damage, and loss of life, the legalisation of marijuana for private use, as was announced by the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, 18 September, has materialised to cause far more than merely severe legal headaches.

The intoxicating truth

The indisputable fact that marijuana is an intoxicating substance has led to grave concerns about the legal (according to section 65 of the National Road Traffic Act) use of the substance before driving. Intoxication of any kind while behind the wheel of a vehicle poses a simultaneous threat to the safety of the driver and other road users who might fall victim to incompetence caused by the effects of a drug. The country could see a drastic rise in intoxication-related traffic accidents as users of dagga take to the roads without the restrictive and inhibiting concern of facing legal action. Before official legalisation, clear and strict parameters therefore need to be drawn up in order to allow the law its duty of effectively enforcing safety for all.

The Cannabis Conundrum

Obvious obstacles block the way. The major conundrum is caused by the fact that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the major psychoactive ingredient of cannabis) can remain in the bloodstream for days after use. Proof of its presence is not necessarily proof of illegal intoxication. The fact that the degree of intoxication is therefore likely to be arduous to determine, poses the major difficulty.

THC Detection

Of the available options for THC detection (blood, urine and saliva), saliva testers will be the probable choice. Countries worldwide acknowledge the still deficient quality of roadside tools for measuring the presence of drugs in the system – an added complication in this country is that thorough testing might be neglected in heavy traffic flow conditions, because insufficient quantities of the required testing equipment exist, and because the tests are time-consuming. The testing of an individual is unlikely to take less than seven minutes. Ironically, this is when exactitude and the efficient pace of the procedure will be most crucial.

Time constraints

Make it impossible to subject sufficient drivers at any one time or place to testing. This will create the unavoidable compromise of traffic officials having to judge according to signs of reckless or irresponsible driving as to whether a driver should be stopped; alternately, they will have to resort to random testing.

Knowledge

Knowlede of these practical difficulties will do little to deter regular dagga users from taking the risk of slipping behind the wheel while intoxicated. Also, until clear, uncompromising regulations have been formulated regarding the prosecution of offenders, marijuana users rightly assume they will be able to slip through the cracks more easily than drunken drivers.

Final thoughts

Well before the new law on marijuana is promulgated, painstaking and incisive attention will have to be paid to the chosen threshold of THC potency limits in the bloodstream of drivers, to clarifying prosecution procedures once this limit has been exceeded, and to overcoming the many practical challenges that impede effective enforcing of it by traffic officers. Otherwise this new-found freedom to indulge in cannabis for private use can spell public disaster on our roads.

Simpsons Attorneys

Simpsons Attorneys are not only personal injury lawyers, specialising in road accident fund claims, they are also #AttorneysWithHeart. If you have been involved in an accident due to the intoxication of the driver make an appointment with our attorneys at Simpsons today to help you determine the merits of the case and assist you in submitting a claim for compensation. Take action today by contacting us at 021 949 2270 and let’s make your life easier.

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