Alaska, Marijuana, and Car Wrecks
In the past few years, marijuana and its uses have been in the spotlight, both here in Alaska and nationwide. With all the changing laws and legal challenges the drug has faced, it may not be long before it starts affecting people’s day-to-day life. The legal history of marijuana in Alaska is complicated and seems to be ever-changing, but now that it is legal for both medical and recreational use, new questions and issues are arising.
A Brief History of Marijuana in Alaska
The battle for and against the use of marijuana began in the early 1970s when a man was pulled over for a broken tail light. The police officer found he had marijuana in the vehicle and wrote him a ticket. The man refused to sign it and was arrested. This incident and the ensuing legal case, which went all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court, set a precedent for the following decades. The state supreme court’s decision in 1975 dictated that possessing the drug in the privacy of one’s home was a constitutionally protected right.
Weeks before the state supreme court’s decision, the Alaskan legislature voted to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, but individuals could be fined up to $100. The fine was scrapped in the early 1980s.
In 1990, Alaskan voters made it illegal to possess or smoke pot. However, in 1998, it became legal for Alaskans to possess marijuana for medical purposes.
Legalizing marijuana for recreational use in ballot initiatives failed in 2000 and 2004. However, in November 2014 the legalization of marijuana was passed by voters, and in February 2015, Alaska became the third state to legalize recreational use of the drug for adults over the age of 21.
This new law affects all Alaskans in one way or another, but one important way that it affects us all is driving safety.
Driving and Marijuana Use
While laws around marijuana and its uses have changed over the last 40 years, state and federal road safety regulations have not been able to keep up with all of them. Unlike other states with similar marijuana laws, Alaska currently has no defined legal limit when it comes to driving under the influence of marijuana. These new laws thus put an enormous amount of pressure on police officers to spot or detect an impairment and take action.
Driving while under the influence of marijuana is illegal and can have negative effects on driving, including:
- Slowed reaction time
- Seeing, hearing, or smelling things that aren’t there
- Problems with coordination
Marijuana affects the body in different ways than other substances, like alcohol, and unlike blood alcohol content (BAC), there is no definitive way to detect the degree to which someone is under the influence of marijuana in any given moment. Marijuana also affects individuals differently; therefore, it is difficult to come up with road safety laws and regulations that are fair and consistent.
Since Alaska’s law is so new and has no defined legal limits, no current data exists that links operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana and car crashes. However, data from other states with similar marijuana laws indicates that an uptick in car crashes—especially those with fatalities—is associated with marijuana use. AAA reports that car accidents with fatalities involving drivers who had recently used marijuana nearly doubled in Washington state after marijuana was legalized. We will have to wait and see how it Alaska will be affected.
Laws concerning marijuana and its use will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the coming years, and here at the Law Office of William D. Cook, we will stay up to date and advocate for safety.
Contact Attorney William D. Cook If You’ve Been Injured
If you or someone you love has been injured in a car crash where the other driver was at fault and/or under the influence of marijuana, please contact the Law Office of William D. Cook at (907) 694-2000. Or you can complete a simple online form, and we will be in touch shortly to discuss the particular details of your unique situation. We offer free initial consultations and in most instances we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything unless we are able to resolve your case through a settlement or at trial.
Division of Public Health. (2015). Get the facts about marijuana. Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Retrieved from http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Director/Pages/marijuana/law.aspx
Johnson, T. (2016 May 10). Fatal road crashes involving marijuana double after state legalizes drug. AAA. Retrieved from http://newsroom.aaa.com/2016/05/fatal-road-crashes-involving-marijuana-double-state-legalizes-drug/