LA MESA, Calif. (KGTV) - A group of experts and concerned citizens spoke on the increase in marijuana-impaired driving cases and what can be done to stop the growing trend.
Members of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) introduced their “High Means DUI” campaign, saying, “Marijuana impaired driving is a growing concern across the nation. Laws, policies and their enforcement should ensure parity in conviction rates, sentences, and treatment for cases of impaired driving irrespective of cause; alcohol, drugs or a combination of both.”
Dr. Roneet Lev, director of operations of the Scripps Mercy Emergency Department, called the issue “a growing public health disaster” and referenced a vehicle collision earlier this year that happened on a San Diego County road.
Lev said the the 25-year-old driver did not know something was wrong when she treated him. According to Lev, the man “didn’t realize that he almost killed four people, including himself. People who are high don’t have insight into their impairment.”
“People use marijuana for different reasons, but whatever the reason or method, marijuana makes you impaired. Driving drugged is no different than driving drunk. Driving high is a DUI,” Lev said.
La Mesa police Lt. Brian Stoney urged the public to refrain from drinking and driving but also added that “DUI doesn’t just mean booze; drugs like marijuana can be impairing too.”
“Whether the drug is legally prescribed marijuana -- both recreational and medicinal -- or illegal drugs, driving while under the influence of drugs poses a threat to the driver, their passengers and all of the other people who use our roadways. Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs is a crime. It is something you can and will be arrested for if caught,” Stoney said.
La Mesa City Councilwoman Kristine Alessio added, “It’s not funny, it’s not cool to drive around while smoking [marijuana]. It’s putting a tremendous strain on local and state law enforcement … even though it’s legal, it is DUI and it will result in death if you drive while you are high.”
Dr. Kevin Sabet, founder of SAM, said certain and swift penalties -- such as driver’s license revocation -- are necessary, as well as treatment and prevention programs for those who are penalized.
“Now that more people are using marijuana, we need more resources for law enforcement,” Sabet added.
Corinne Gasper, whose 22-year-old daughter was killed by a driver under the influence of medical marijuana, said, “I’m here because I want to see something done about drugged driving. It’s become a menace to our society and it’s killing innocent people every day.”
With many states like California legalizing marijuana use, SAM officials are hoping for clearer laws regarding driving under the influence.
Officials said, “All states prohibit driving under its influence. Unfortunately, many people still perceive driving after marijuana use isn't dangerous. The insurance industry is already reporting higher collision claims in states with legal marijuana.”
According to 2018 data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, marijuana is the most common drug found in fatally-injured drivers and marijuana presence has increased substantially in the past decade.