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Feds Could Study Marijuana ’s Effect on Driving

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The federal government could soon launch a major study into the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana and issue recommendations about how best to detect stoned automobile operators, including the enactment of impairment standards.

A Congressional bill set to be voted on this week would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a year-long review, in consultation with other government agencies, that examines existing scientific research, current state laws and the role and extent of marijuana impairment in motor vehicle accidents.

The department would then issue a report to Congress detailing its findings and making recommendations, including about best practices for measuring impairment levels and training law enforcement officers.

The proposed study is part of a 558-page bill to authorize $ 325 billion in spending on the nation’s highways, bridges and other aspects of surface transportation over six years. Congress is scrambling to act before current authorization for the programs runs out on October 29.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), is scheduled to be voted on Thursday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Shuster chairs.

The legislation also directs the Transportation Department to look at ways of differentiating the cause of a driving impairment between alcohol and marijuana.

Marijuana policy reform advocates, while expressing opposition to impaired driving, questioned whether a new study is necessary.

“I’m all for more science, but we already have reams of evidence showing that resources spent on marijuana detection would be better directed toward drunk driving, which the evidence does show is a serious problem right now,” Dan Riffle, federal policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana.com in an interview.

He pointed to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released earlier this year which found no evidence that marijuana use leads to increased risk of getting into an automobile accident.

“Nobody wants high drivers behind the wheel any more than drunk drivers, and combination impairment is the worst of both worlds,” Riffle said. “But I think a fair analysis of the evidence will show that it’s too early to legislate around marijuana-only impairment and driving.”

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