One of the major issues with recreational marijuana in Washington is keeping people from smoking it, then driving impaired.
YAKIMA, WA - One of the major issues with recreational marijuana in Washington is keeping people from smoking it, then driving impaired. Researchers conducting a groundbreaking new survey for the State Transportation Safety Commission stopped in Yakima Friday to look at how many people are driving high.
If you're driving without a seat belt, that's pretty obvious. If you're driving after a few drinks, that's a little bit harder to spot. And after a few hits of marijuana? That could be the most difficult to determine.
"In impaired driving," Shelly Baldwin said, "We can't look at your car and see if our policies are working or not so this is really our first look."
This new, anonymous survey sweeping across the state is giving administrators a look behind the wheel to see what substances could be influencing Washington drivers.
During the survey random participants drive up to their designated spot, answer a few questions about their drug and alcohol usage and then take a breathalyzer test. And this survey makes it pretty hard to lie.
"We're going to ask you those questions but then we're going to back up your answers and see what the results actually tell us," Shelly said. "So the breath test we give you gives us an actual, 'you told us you had nothing to drink today, oh look it says zero point zero zero. You actually had nothing to drink today.'"
This survey is being conducted right now because of the coming recreational marijuana sales, making it pretty unique.
"In Washington, we'll actually get THC level data which is something nobody in the nation has had from actual drivers so this is really going to be ground breaking research for us," Shelly said.
To get THC levels, participants were given 10 dollars for a cotton swab test in their mouth. For 50 dollars, they could give researchers a full drug sample with a blood test. And the results could have wide impact.
"Literally the whole nation will look at what happens," Shelly said. "Everyone is looking to Washington to look at what policy changes they might be interested in or not."
The hope is that this look behind the wheel can help Washington administrators better determine how to handle marijuana on the roads. Nine months from now the Traffic Safety Commission will conduct this survey again to see if recreational marijuana sales in the state have changed the results of drivers in the survey.