Since 2014, when the Colorado Amendment 64 became law, legalizing recreational marijuana for adults over 21, 10 states and the nation’s capital have followed suit. That’s good news in a legal sense, as marijuana users in those states no longer live in fear of incarceration for simple possession. But legalization also comes with downsides, and state legislators are scrambling to figure out how marijuana fits in with current policies.
One area where legalized recreational marijuana is problematic is in the realm of roadway safety. A 2019 study conducted by researchers at the University of California – San Francisco found that the legalization of recreational marijuana is associated with an increase in car accidents. After legalization, the state of Colorado “experienced a 10 percent increase in motor vehicle accidents.”
However, law enforcement officials are still looking for a reliable DUI test for marijuana. Thus, it’s difficult to determine if the substance is truly the cause of Colorado’s increase in car accident numbers.
Where the legalization of recreational marijuana is concerned, there’s also the personal injury angle to consider. After all, although it’s impossible to overdose on marijuana alone, the substance does carry its fair share of risks and side effects. The potential risks of marijuana include anxiety, depression, and product contamination. Rarely, marijuana users may experience more severe side effects such as psychosis, increased inebriation when combined with alcohol, and Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).
So, what are your rights and responsibilities as a recreational marijuana user in a legal state? What about when you cross state lines while under the influence, or if you are injured by a driver under the influence of marijuana?
What’s in a Name? THC vs. CBD
Especially if you reside in a state where recreational marijuana is not yet legal, one of the biggest distinctions to be aware of is that of THC versus CBD. Scientists have identified at least 400 chemical components in the cannabis plant. Arguably the most notorious is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.
THC is psychoactive and causes the “high” a user experiences when ingesting or smoking marijuana. And despite marijuana’s legalization and/or decriminalization in numerous states, it’s important to keep in mind that it remains legal at the federal level. In fact, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, a designation reserved for dangerous drugs with a high potential for abuse.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is another component of the marijuana plant. It is typically extracted from hemp, which is essentially marijuana without mind-altering properties. Unlike THC, CBD is legal at the federal level, thanks to the passage of the Farm Bill in late 2018. But CBD contains trace amounts of its psychoactive cousin, and CBD oil must contain less than 0.3% THC to still be considered legal.
Marijuana-Induced Injuries and Your Medical Bills
If you plan to jump on the CBD bandwagon, keep in mind that you’re not necessarily in the clear when it comes to legal repercussions. In the event of an accident where impairment is suspected, you will likely be subject to a drug test. And the unfortunate reality is that, if enough THC is present in your CBD products, you could still test positive for marijuana use. In order to avoid a positive test, steer clear of CBD products that are labeled “full-spectrum.”
Whether its primary component is CBD or THC, marijuana has been touted as a safe, non-narcotic medication option for those living with chronic pain. It is also prescribed to treat a number of serious health conditions, including seizures, glaucoma, cancer, and eating disorders. Along with the aforementioned states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, a further 22 states allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
Legalization doesn’t mean that medical marijuana is completely safe however; like other forms of medication, including pharmaceuticals, there is an inherent risk of impairment when it comes to the use of marijuana. Ingesting THC poses a danger to those operating heavy machinery as well as while behind the wheel.
And if you are involved in an accident while under the influence of marijuana, your level of inebriation will be an important factor during the litigation process. And if you are the victim of a marijuana-induced injury that required hospitalization, there are a number of factors to consider. Before filing a lawsuit, you should consider discussing the payment of medical bills with your insurance company. That way, you’re aware of the full extent of losses and the insurance company’s claim, as well as whether you need to dispute any charges.
The Future of Marijuana
No matter your thoughts on America’s drug and medication culture, few can deny the scope of the industry. In fact, the U.S. makes up 45% of the global pharmaceutical market, and Americans spent $482 billion on medication in 2018 alone. And as more states legalize marijuana and the popularity of supplements such as CBD continue to grow, cannabis will dip into the pharmaceutical industry’s profits.
In many respects, that’s a good thing, because a variety of pain medications are addictive and deadly, most notably opioids. The U.S. opioid epidemic has reached dangerous proportions. According to Maryville University, there were more than 130 opioid overdose deaths every day in 2016 and 2017. What’s more, dying from an opioid overdose is now more common than dying in a car accident.
Medical marijuana has been suggested as a viable alternative to pharmaceutical opioids. As previously mentioned, THC is classified as Schedule I alongside heroin, but many other opioids, including fentanyl and oxycodone, are Schedule II. But that doesn’t mean that those drugs are less dangerous or addictive than marijuana — in fact, the opposite is true. And in several states, doctors can prescribe medical marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain in patients who have an opioid addiction.
Much like those who are injured while on vacation, few of us could ever suspect that medical marijuana could lead to an injury. No matter if you’re the victim of a car accident involving a marijuana user or were injured because you took a larger dose of THC than expected, it’s important to know your rights. You should consider seeking out an attorney for advice whether you live in a state with legalized weed or an area where it remains prohibited.
Author information: Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book.