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  • Writer's pictureCarolina Nunez

The Ripple Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Personal Injury Law

The marijuana legalization news is reshaping the personal injury law landscape. As more states legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, the potential for negligence cases involving marijuana intoxication is increasing.


With the rise of marijuana legalization, personal injury cases related to driving under the influence, traumatic injuries from motor vehicle crashes, and liability concerns around marijuana use are becoming more prevalent.


Legal Status of Marijuana

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Overview of marijuana laws in different states


Marijuana laws vary significantly across the United States, with a complex patchwork of state-level regulations and federal prohibition. While some states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, it remains illegal at the federal level. According to federal law, all cannabis is illegal, including both medical and adult-use cannabis regulated at the state level. However, there is a growing movement in Congress to legalize cannabis nationwide.


Currently, more than 35 states have authorized the use of medical marijuana for various medical conditions, although these conditions vary by jurisdiction. Recreational marijuana use has also been legalized by states including Colorado, Washington, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia, with several other states set to pass adult-use laws soon.


Distinction between medical and recreational use

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Technically, there is no difference between the marijuana plant and products used for medical conditions or recreational purposes, as the THC concentration is similar. The main distinction lies in how they are sold and regulated.


To purchase medical marijuana through a state's medical program, a person must have authorization from a healthcare provider and the state's approval. However, recreational marijuana purchases in qualifying states can be made by any person over the age of 21, and these purchases may be exempt from certain taxes.


While medical marijuana is legal for qualifying conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, or multiple sclerosis (conditions vary by state), recreational marijuana is subject to different regulations and taxes imposed by state and local agencies.


It is important to note that while state laws have legalized marijuana for specific purposes, federal law overrides state laws, and there are still potential consequences for violating federal regulations.


Impact on Personal Injury Cases


Liability for negligent behavior under the influence


Marijuana use, even if legal, can impair a person's judgment, reaction time, and ability to operate machinery or engage in physical activities safely. As a result, individuals who consume marijuana and subsequently act negligently, causing harm or injury to others, may be held liable in personal injury cases.

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  1. Driving under the influence: If a person consumes marijuana and then operates a vehicle, causing an accident that results in injuries to others, they may face charges for driving under the influence of marijuana and be sued for the damages caused by their negligence.

  2. Operating machinery: Marijuana impairment can lead to accidents involving heavy machinery or equipment, potentially causing severe injuries. Individuals operating such machinery while under the influence of marijuana may be deemed negligent and held responsible for any resulting harm.


Duty of care for marijuana users


Individuals who use marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, have a duty of care to others when engaging in activities that could potentially cause harm. This duty extends beyond just operating vehicles or machinery.


For example, a person impaired by marijuana could forget to clear ice from their porch steps, leading to a delivery person slipping and sustaining injuries. In such cases, the injured party may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent marijuana user.


Examples of scenarios involving personal injury


Here are some scenarios where marijuana use could lead to personal injury cases:


  1. Motor vehicle accidents: A driver who consumed marijuana and caused a collision, resulting in injuries to other drivers or pedestrians, may be held liable for damages.

  2. Workplace incidents: An employee operating machinery or performing tasks while impaired by marijuana could cause accidents that injure co-workers or bystanders.

  3. Premises liability: A property owner who fails to maintain a safe environment due to marijuana impairment, leading to injuries to visitors or tenants, may face premises liability claims.

  4. Product liability: Manufacturers or distributors of marijuana products could be held liable if their products cause adverse reactions or injuries due to improper labeling, contamination, or other defects.

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It is crucial to note that the legality of marijuana does not absolve individuals from their responsibility to act with reasonable care and avoid negligent behavior that could harm others. If legal marijuana use leads to negligent actions and subsequent injuries, the user may be held liable for the victim's losses, regardless of the substance's legal status.


Considerations for Legal Marijuana Use


Safe Practices for Marijuana Users


To ensure responsible and legal marijuana use, individuals must adhere to specific guidelines. First and foremost, they should purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries or authorized retailers. These legal sources ensure that products undergo rigorous testing for potency, contaminants, and accurate labeling, providing consumers with a safer and more transparent experience.


Secondly, users must pay close attention to the potency levels of the products they consume. Cannabis products today are significantly more potent than those available in the past, increasing the risk of overconsumption and adverse effects. It is crucial to start with low doses and gradually increase as needed, avoiding highly concentrated forms like wax or shatter, which can contain up to 90% THC.


Additionally, individuals should opt for alternative consumption methods like tinctures, edibles, topicals, or vaporizers instead of smoking, which can irritate the lungs. If smoking is preferred, users should avoid holding the smoke in their lungs for extended periods, as this does not enhance the effects but can cause lung irritation.


Driving and Operating Machinery

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  1. Marijuana impairs cognitive functions, reaction times, and motor skills, making it unsafe to operate vehicles or machinery while under its influence.

  2. Most states have implemented strict laws prohibiting driving under the influence of marijuana, including:

  3. Zero-tolerance laws, making it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of specified drugs in the system.

  • Per se laws, setting legal limits for the amount of specific drugs allowed in the body while driving.

  1. In Massachusetts, it is illegal to drive with an open container of marijuana in the vehicle unless it is locked in the glove compartment or trunk.

  2. Marijuana users are strongly advised to avoid driving or operating machinery for at least four hours after smoking and eight to twelve hours after consuming edibles.

  3. It is recommended to use alternative transportation options, such as ridesharing services or public transit, if under the influence of marijuana.


Precautions to Avoid Negligence


Even with the legalization of marijuana, users can still be held liable for negligent behavior that causes harm or injury to others. To mitigate potential risks, individuals should:

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  1. Refrain from engaging in activities that could endanger others while impaired, such as operating heavy machinery or performing tasks that require full cognitive abilities.

  2. Maintain a safe environment by addressing potential hazards, such as clearing ice from walkways or ensuring proper lighting, to prevent accidents that could lead to premises liability claims.

  3. Avoid consuming marijuana in situations where they may be responsible for the well-being of others, such as when caring for children or elderly individuals.

  4. Be mindful of their surroundings and take necessary precautions to prevent negligent actions that could result in personal injury cases.


It is important to remember that while marijuana may be legal in certain states, users are still responsible for their actions and can be held accountable for any negligence that causes harm to others.


Conclusion


The legalization of marijuana has brought about significant changes in the personal injury law landscape. As more states embrace this shift, it is crucial for individuals to understand the potential legal implications of marijuana use. While the substance may be legal, users can still be held liable for negligent behavior that causes harm or injury to others.

Responsible marijuana use requires adhering to safe practices, avoiding activities that could endanger others, and maintaining a heightened awareness of one's surroundings. By taking necessary precautions and exercising reasonable care, individuals can mitigate potential risks and prevent negligent actions that could lead to personal injury cases. The legal status of marijuana does not absolve users from their duty of care towards others.


FAQs


How has the legalization of marijuana impacted road safety, specifically regarding crash rates?


The legalization and subsequent retail sales of marijuana have led to a 5.8% increase in injury crash rates and a 4.1% increase in fatal crash rates. The impact varied significantly across different states, with injury crash rates fluctuating between a 7% decrease and an 18% increase, and fatal crash rates moving between a 10% decrease and a 4% increase.


In what ways does the legalization of marijuana influence crime rates?


Evidence indicates that marijuana legalization may have a positive effect on the resolution of violent crimes. Specifically, there has been a notable increase in the clearance rates for violent crimes overall, as well as for aggravated assault in Oregon counties compared to those in states where marijuana remains illegal, following the legalization.


How has the legalization of marijuana affected the incidence of serious traffic accidents?


A study found that the rate of marijuana-related injuries in traffic accidents surged from 0.18 emergency visits per 1,000 motor vehicle collisions in 2010 to 1.01 visits per 1,000 collisions in 2021. This represents a staggering 475% increase over the study period.


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