In November of 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana usage. People can now legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana if they’re over 21. They may also legally grow up to six plants for personal use; however, they may not legally smoke in public places such as parks or on sidewalks.
The note that caught my attention, as an insurance agent, was that driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal. I was curious about that when it was first published and emailed several of my insurance company area personnel in December. I wanted to know if they’d heard anything about how their companies would handle a DUI for marijuana usage. None of them had an answer then, and since most are responsible for Texas and one or more of the contiguous states, they still don’t. Medical and recreational marijuana usage is still illegal in Texas so the lack of information doesn’t surprise me.
There are two interesting questions that arise out of legalizing marijuana in these two states:
- What constitutes a DUI
- How will insurers respond to a DUI
On May 7th, the first question was answered as Colorado pushed to pass a bill setting a 5 nanogram per milliliter measurement for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the high sensation. People with a 5 nanogram measurement in their blood will be considered too impaired to drive and will be issued a ticket similarly to someone who was considered too drunk to drive. Washington State missed out on the legislative gymnastics Colorado has undergone since their bill passed with a 5 nanogram limit.
The second question is how will insurance companies respond to a driver receiving a DUI after smoking pot? Setting a legal limit for a DUI based on marijuana usage is an important first step because everyone now knows where the line in the sand is defining impaired driving. I have not yet heard of an official response from any of the insurance companies I work with, but I do have an educated guess as to what the response will be. I believe insurance companies will respond the same way as they do with a DUI or DWI for consuming too much alcohol. The result will probably be along the lines of the following actions:
- Rate increase once the insurance company discovers the DUI
- Most rate increases for a DWI / DUI result in a premium increase of about $1,000 a year
- A second DUI for marijuana usage will result in even higher car insurance premium and may cause the insurance policy to be cancelled
At some point the driver will possibly face a loss of their driver’s license and become uninsurable, but I’ve not found any information indicating when that would occur. Most likely it will be some combination of factors such as number of DUI’s within a certain time period or how frequently a DUI was issued for impaired driving.
The other question is: At what point does a person become stoned? I’ve not found any medical study or “rule of thumb” similar to consuming alcohol – an average size person can usually metabolize a beer, glass of wine, or an ounce of liquor in an hour. There were some very interesting opinions on the boards I visited, but there was nothing that would be even remotely scientific about the opinions shared.
Driving under the influence is an established issue. States and insurance companies have been working with alcohol related laws and company responses for a long time. Introducing marijuana or some other substance into the equation does create new challenges and some may be a moving target as States go forward with the decisions they’re facing. What do you think? Share your thoughts and questions with me on our Google + and Facebook page or in the comments section of our blog. I’d love to hear from you!