On Apr. 20, popularly celebrated as a holiday in honor of cannabis, police are especially on the lookout for people driving under the influence of marijuana. With the official legalization of cannabis for recreational use in the state of California, police are concerned that there will be a surge in impaired drivers on "4/20" compared to previous years.
So, Los Angeles Police Department officers and AAA Auto Club in Downtown Los Angeles put together a PSA to explain people the dangers of driving while high on the locally legalized plant.
"I think there's a large misconception that cannabis makes you a slower, safer driver and that's just not the case," said Kamaron Sardar, police officer and drug recognition expert coordinator.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the number of nighttime weekend drivers in the U.S. with marijuana in their system increased nearly 50 percent from 2007 to 2014.
Sardar explained that although people commonly compare most drug effects to alcohol, the effects of marijuana are different but equally dangerous when operating a vehicle.
The THC, a chemical compound found in cannabis responsible for the "high" experience, goes to the brain and causes more mental than physical impairment, thus creating the distortion that makes people think they are driving slower and safer.
"That's their impaired brain telling them that, so it's definitely not safe to drive while using any of this substance," said Sardar.
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When a driver is stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence, the officer does not know whether the substance is marijuana, alcohol, cocaine or other mind-altering substances. Officers observe the individual's behavior, the look of their eyes, pupils and the lips.
"We might look at the way you hand us your license or you might hand us your credit card instead," Sardar said. "All those things come into play and then the officer will make a determination of whether the individual needs to step out of the car and do a sobriety test."
The consequences of driving while under the influence of marijuana are the same as a first DIU conviction resulting from alcohol and can cost up to $21,000.
"You have to put yourself through all the stress, your family goes through all that stress with you, your insurance goes up, your car gets impounded, your license can be taken away...It’s just not worth it," said Sardar. "If anyone is going to use this, or drink, just do it and be safe about it and don’t drive."