[Posted by attorney Bryan Dawson, November 5, 2014]
Oregon has just become the third U.S. state to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes.
“Legalization” is actually a misnomer, since the legality it provides is only on the criminal side of the law. In civil law, being high onTHC remains one potential source of negligence, and, hence, legal liability. The more accurate term for what Oregon Measure 91 did is decriminalization of pot possession and distribution.
Decriminalizing marijuana, in fact, is all but certain to raise the incidence of driving-while-stoned problems in Oregon.
This is a rapidly growing trend, thanks not only to more MJ use, but to the spread of opioid addiction. The authors of a recent study of deaths from impaired driving published in The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that:
[W]e assessed trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in drivers who were killed within 1 hour of a motor vehicle crash in 6 US states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia) that routinely performed toxicological testing on drivers involved in such crashes.
Of the 23,591 drivers studied, 39.7% tested positive for alcohol and 24.8% for other drugs. During the study period, the prevalence of positive results for nonalcohol drugs rose from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010 (Z = −10.19, P < 0.0001), whereas the prevalence of positive results for alcohol remained stable. The most commonly detected nonalcohol drug was cannabinol, the prevalence of which increased from 4.2% in 1999 to 12.2% in 2010 (Z = −13.63, P < 0.0001). The increase in the prevalence of nonalcohol drugs was observed in all age groups and both sexes. These results indicate that nonalcohol drugs, particularly marijuana, are increasingly detected in fatally injured drivers.
Driving under the influence of intoxicants, whether the intoxicating substance be alcohol, cannabis, pain pills, or any other drug, remains a very serious aggravating practical and legal factor in car crashes that cause personal injury or wrongful death.
So, legal pot probably means more, not less, mayhem and conflict within Oregon’s civil justice realm. Will Oregon personal injury attorneys start seeking and getting THC blood tests in lawsuits over car crashes? Time will tell, but it’s a definite possibility.
And, by the way, few things can hurt your own Oregon personal injury claim more than a positive cannabinoid blood test result in your medical history. Oregon juries still hate that, whether marijuana is legal or not.
The point to remember is that marijuana is still a drug, not a candy, however much sense it might make to decriminalize it. When it comes to matters of civil liability, the realm of related risks just expanded in Oregon.