As many Floridians know, a ballot initiative to allow medical marijuana
failed in last November's election. The initiative was actually favored
by a majority of Florida voters, but it failed to reach the 60-percent
threshold required for approval.
However, lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering a change in law which
would allow something similar. Under the terms of the new law, a physician
could prescribe medical marijuana to a patient to provide pain relief
under some limited circumstances. If the law passes, it will do many of
the same things as November's failed initiative.
While many Florida voters believe this would be a good thing, it could
create a dilemma in auto accident cases. One of the biggest no-nos in
the auto accident world is driving while intoxicated. Courts frown upon
driving while intoxicated so strongly that it is grounds for criminal
prosecution and a punitive damage claim against an at-fault driver.
In cases involving alcohol, blood or breath testing is considered highly
reliable. That's because the body eliminates alcohol hour by hour
after someone drinks. If one has alcohol in their system, it's a safe
bet they consumed it close to the time when they were tested. Because
testing usually occurs within a few hours of a crash, it's also a
safe bet that the person drove with alcohol in their system.
Things aren't so simple with marijuana. The residue of marijuana consumption
can linger for several days or even weeks after marijuana is used. That
means a person who uses marijuana on Saturday afternoon can test positive
for it when they drive home from work "clean" the following
Wednesday evening. The residue itself is not intoxicating, and thus, the
presence of residue in one's body does not tell us the person was
impaired when they drove. The residue is just a metabolic by-product which
works it way out of the body much more slowly than liquor.
People who are accused of causing accidents aren't the only ones who
will face this. Injured people might also be accused of being intoxicated
at the time of an accident, and contributing to the accident because of
their intoxication. Third parties whose vehicles were also involved in
the accident might be blamed as well.
This is not a new problem. People used marijuana since before cars even
existed. However, if medical marijuana is made legal in Florida, there
will be cases where someone consumes marijuana
legally and still faces the blame game after an accident. This is already happening
in states like Colorado and Washington where marijuana has been legalized
Courts are constantly grappling with changes in laws and social norms.
We can expect to hear more about this issue as Florida, along with many
other states, relaxes its prohibition of marijuana use. In the meantime,
people should remember that marijuana use leaves a telltale trail which
lingers long after the high is gone.