Hugh Pickens writes "A recent assessment by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on random roadside checks, found that 16.3% of all drivers nationwide at night were on various legal and illegal impairing drugs, half them high on marijuana. Now AP reports that with marijuana soon legal under state laws in Washington and Colorado, setting a standard comparable to blood-alcohol limits has sparked intense disagreement. Unlike portable breath tests for alcohol, there's no easily available way to determine whether someone is impaired from recent pot use. If scientists can't tell someone how much marijuana it will take for him or her to test over the threshold, how is the average pot user supposed to know? 'We've had decades of studies and experience with alcohol,' says Washington State Patrol spokesman Dan Coon. 'Marijuana is new, so it's going to take some time to figure out how the courts and prosecutors are going to handle it.' Driving within three hours of smoking pot is associated with a near doubling of the risk of fatal crashes. However, THC can remain in blood and saliva for highly variable times after the last use of the drug. Although the marijuana 'high' only lasts three to five hours, studies of heavy users in a locked hospital ward showed THC can be detected in the blood up to a week after they are abstinent, and the outer limit of detection time in saliva tests is not known. 'A lot of effort has gone into the study of drugged driving and marijuana, because that is the most prevalent drug, but we are not nearly to the point where we are with alcohol,' says Jeffrey P. Michael, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's impaired-driving director. 'We don't know what level of marijuana impairs a driver.'"
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