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New York recreational marijuana legalization: What to know about drugged driving

An Oregon mother is facing prison time for smoking marijuana before a deadly car crash that underscored the stakes of New York’s recreational cannabis debate.

Prosecutors accused the 39-year-old woman of getting high two hours before driving her children in a Kia Sportage that slammed head-on into two cars, killing a 52-year-old man.

She pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and other charges in Oregon, where drugged driving struggles have mounted since it legalized recreational cannabis in 2014.

The emotionally charged case navigated the complex legal challenges plaguing drugged driving enforcement across the country, a critical issue for the growing opposition to New York’s marijuana legislation.

What follows is a review of stoned-driving research by authorities in Colorado and national roadway safety groups, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Governors Highway Safety Association.

Motor vehicle crashes are up by as much as 6 percent in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, compared with neighboring states that haven’t legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The combined-state analysis is based on collision loss data from January 2012 through October 2017.

“States exploring legalizing marijuana should consider this effect on highway safety,” said David Harkey, president of the highway safety group.

Meanwhile, the number of fatalities in Colorado where a driver tested positive for any cannabinoid (marijuana use) increased to 139 from 55, including crashes that involved marijuana alone or its use with other drugs or alcohol.

As a percentage of all traffic fatalities, this marijuana-related death count nearly doubled to 21 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

Experts noted, however, that marijuana toxicology testing in Colorado and other states is inconclusive because THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, stays in the body longer than it impairs driving.

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