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Marijuana legalization could pose dangerous risks for teen drivers

The legalization of marijuana will likely increase impaired driving and boating injuries, says Ottawa personal injury lawyer Najma Rashid.

Rashid, partner with Howard Yegendorf & Associates, tells AdvocateDaily.com she questions if society is ready to deal with many unknowns associated with how the drug will affect young people and their ability to drive vehicles, including snowmobiles or boats.

“We’ll probably see more people who are driving while impaired by marijuana, and when you drive while impaired, you’re more likely to have an accident,” Rashid says. “Yes, I think there will be more accidents caused by marijuana. I don’t see how it can’t happen.”

The science behind the effects of marijuana and driving suggests there is an increase in collisions, but the results vary from academic research suggesting some effect depending on the amount of marijuana use, to doubling the chances of getting into a crash, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Marijuana is expected to be legalized, possibly by 2017. A federal task force has determined sales should be restricted to those 18 and older, the CBC reports. Nine American states that legalized the drug chose to limit the buying age to 21-years and older, the same age restriction as the purchase of alcohol.

“My biggest concern is the fact that it is an intoxicating substance,” she says. “Who knows what the effects are if you have a little bit of pot with a little bit of alcohol. Is that the equivalent of someone who’s driving legally impaired? I don’t know.

“Driving while intoxicated remains a societal problem,” Rashid says. “People are injured and killed every day on the road because of the use of alcohol.”

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, on average, 90 people are killed and 1,330 people are hurt annually by impaired drivers.

Rashid says she’s seen in her practice the toll that impaired driving has caused. “I’ve seen more alcohol-related accidents involving young people,” she says.

“The data suggests that it’s people aged between 18 and 25 who are the biggest consumers of marijuana,” she says. “What’s the impact going to be on the brain development of those youths?”

Rashid says she is opposed to marijuana legalization, and she has many questions about its effects on young people. She also cites possible impacts on pregnancy and mental health.

Her position on legalizing marijuana may not be the prevailing view among the majority of Canadians, and that may include some clients she may represent. A Globe and Mail-Nanos survey of 1,000 Canadians across the country between Feb. 22 and 24 showed 50 per cent overall support or somewhat support legalization. The poll showed 45 per cent disagree or somewhat disagree, while 4 per cent are unsure.

“You know, G1 and G2 drivers are not allowed to drive with a drop of alcohol in their systems or their insurance is nullified,” she says. “The rationale behind it is, at that age, they don’t know how to self-regulate in terms of pacing.

“I don’t know how the legislation will accommodate G1 and G2 drivers who smoke marijuana,” Rashid says, asking if there going to be a similar prohibition.

“An 18-year-old is still a child, and with all the concerns about brain development, heavy usage of marijuana and alcohol by young people under the age of 25, that doesn’t change,” Rahsid says.

While that argument could be contentious among many, research appears to bear her out, as one U.S. study suggests significant use of marijuana before the age of 21, while the brain is still developing, could have long-term adverse effects.

“From a professional point of view, in terms of what we will see in the area of personal injury and insurance, I think there’ll be more accidents on the water and on the road,” she says. “There are many accidents at cottages. I’ve seen in my practice young people who have drowned or been hurt in boating accidents.

“Do I think those kinds of accidents are going to be limited to individuals who consume alcohol? No,” Rashid says. “I think legal marijuana will compound the problem. You don’t have to have an addiction for it to have negative consequences.”