Volume 59

Driving While Stoned in Virginia

by Paul J. Larkin

In 2021, Virginia became the first state in the Old South to pass legislation beginning a multi-year process of legalizing the commercial sale of cannabis for recreational use. By so doing, the Old Dominion joined numerous other states that permit cannabis to be sold for medical or recreational use under state law, even though its distribution for either purpose remains a federal crime. Provisions legalizing the simple possession and home cultivation of a limited amount of cannabis by adults went into effect on July 1 of that year, but the General Assembly must repass the provisions creating a cannabis regulatory agency before commercial sale of cannabis can begin. Unfortunately, when passing the 2021 legislation the Virginia General Assembly did not adequately consider one of the most serious adverse effects that legalization will have on the public health and safety. The principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—delta-tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC)—impairs the mental functioning necessary to drive safely by (among other things) slowing reaction time, weakening attention, distorting time and space, creating short-term memory deficits, and hampering eye-hand-foot coordination. Prior to 2021, there was evidence that Virginians have increasingly chosen to use cannabis and drive shortly thereafter. Legalization is likely to increase further the number of Virginians who do so, as well as the amount they consume, and experience shows that some of them will drive under its influence. Accordingly, unless the 2021 law is revised before large-scale commercial cannabis distribution takes effect, one inevitable result of that legislation will be an increase in roadway crashes causing grave injuries and fatalities by drivers who are “one toke over the

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