02/28/2014 11:10 am ET Updated Apr 30, 2014

The "Blunt" Truth: Driving While High

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Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the world, and its use is technically illegal in the United States under Federal Law. However, it's getting harder to tell that it is illegal, especially since President Obama publicly announced he will not enforce the Federal Law in those states where its use has been legalized, provided that it is not sold to minors.

In the year since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, 14 states have begun considering legalization -- including Florida, where we have a qualified initiative to bring the question of legalizing Marijuana to the voters this November. One of the most powerful proponents of Florida's move towards legalization is our former Governor, Charlie Crist, who is currently running for reelection as Florida's governor, while employed by an Orlando personal injury law firm.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana, or Cannabis, contains chemicals called cannabinoids that include cannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabinol iodic acid, cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and several isomers of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette ("joint") or in a pipe or bong, but it can be mixed into everything from brownies to toothpaste.

Unlike Mr. Crist, I am not a politician running for office; I am an attorney in Florida who, for over 20 years, has tried to help people and their families who face life-changing and, sadly, sometimes life-ending traffic accidents where often one or more of the drivers were under the influence of alcohol or drugs -- prescription or otherwise.

Will Legalized Marijuana Make Our Roads Safer?

Therefore, I am curious about what effect legalized marijuana will have on the safety of our roads. The most common effect of marijuana for the recreational user is a "high" that lasts about two hours, leaving the user with a feeling of relaxation, euphoria, lowered inhibitions, disorientation, altered time and space perception, lack of concentration, and altered thought.

But how does all of that affect drivers? According to a panel appointed by the National Highway Safety Administration, even low doses of THC moderately impair both the cognitive and motor functions needed to drive safely. The risk increases, especially at high doses, with chronic use, and in combination with even low doses of alcohol.

The panel relied upon an epidemiological study of traffic arrests and fatalities, showing that marijuana is second only to alcohol among the most commonly detected psychoactive substances. Mixing alcohol and marijuana may dramatically increase the effects of either drug on its own.

The NHTSA's "Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheet" study found marijuana can impair driving performance for up to three hours. Researchers found drivers experienced decreased car-handling performance and increased reaction times. Those impairments affected their ability to estimate both time and distance as well as their abilities to maintain headway and to negotiate lateral travel. Other symptoms were subjective sleepiness and decreased motor coordination. Marijuana was found to impair performance, particularly during prolonged and monotonous driving.

Marijuana is detectable in urine within four hours after smoking, and its use can be detected for up to three days; however, chronic users can show low levels of cannabis metabolites in their urine for up to five weeks.

If and when marijuana is legalized in Florida, marijuana consumption will become essential evidence in every personal injury case from a slip and falls to a car accident, and positive findings will be used against both injury victims and those who allegedly cause their injuries.

Florida finally enacted legislation prohibiting texting while driving, purportedly to make our roads safer. I question why anyone would want to facilitate legislation that would potentially put millions of intoxicated drivers on our roads.