Legalized Pot in OR: What You Need to Know

Posted on behalf of Rizk Law on Jul 18, 2016 in Consumer Alerts

As of July 2015, Oregon may officially be the “greenest” state in the US. Known for farming, a strong environmental awareness, and lush forests, the legalization of marijuana has allowed growers to quit the black market and contribute to a thriving economy. Oregon was the very first state to decriminalize marijuana in small amounts in 1973, and was the second state to legalize medical cannabis. October 1, 2015 went down in history as the first day medical marijuana dispensaries were legally allowed to sell the drug for recreational use.

Today, Oregon is one out of just three states and the District of Columbia where recreational pot use is not a crime. Whether you smoke it, eat it, or vape it, or just know people who do, here are the main things you need to know about it.

Is Pot Dangerous?

The legalization of marijuana is welcome news for the 370,000 marijuana users in the state. According to data released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Oregon ranked #4 on the list of top 10 states with the highest marijuana use per capita among adults 18 and over. That equals 12.4% of the adult population. Due to the fact that the SAMHSA used the latest census from 2012, these data may be even higher.

With so many fond users, it’s difficult to grasp that there is any real threat from marijuana use. Marijuana is simply a combination of natural elements like shredded leaves, stems, and the flower buds of the cannabis plant. The potency of the drug comes from its THC content, which is responsible for its psychoactive effects. The THC is highly concentrated in the flowering buds.

The main organs affected by marijuana are the brain and lungs. Like many other drugs including alcohol, marijuana stimulates the pleasure centers in your brain. The strength of the psychoactive effects are influenced by the level of THC present and a user’s level of tolerance. Smoking marijuana produces feelings of euphoria almost instantly, while ingesting it can take hours.

Marijuana can make people feel relaxed, have heightened sensory perceptions, and develop an appetite. It can also spark anxiety, panic, fear, hallucinations, increased heart rate, difficulty concentrating, and decreased ability and desire to complete tasks. Like cigarettes, marijuana damages your respiratory system. A marijuana high dampens the cognitive abilities required for safe motoring, including tracking, motor coordination, visual function, and divided attention.

Driving While High

Impaired driving is impaired driving. Whether you are under the influence of alcohol or a marijuana high, or are affected by other substances, you should not be operating a motor vehicle. With that said, it seems the effects of marijuana on driving are milder than those of alcohol. This is consistent with the widespread perception that driving while high is not dangerous nor is it a serious problem.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of fatal accidents in 2013 were caused by alcohol impairment. Data like these are impossible to find, however, regarding marijuana use. Although marijuana does impair driving ability by affecting cognition, no studies have found that using pot before or while driving increases traffic accidents.

Benjamin Hansen, an economist at the University of Oregon in Eugene, has extensively studied marijuana legalization and how it relates to the state’s driving record. Over the years he has found that if people were to switch from drunk driving to driving while high on pot, the streets would probably be safer. This is not to negate the very real effects marijuana has on the mind and body. It is always safest to drive completely sober, which is why it is illegal to do otherwise.

An interesting find was discovered by a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in which researchers revealed that those who use vaporized marijuana are more likely to weave within their own lanes, but not within adjacent lanes. They also are not likely to speed, while drunk drivers are very likely to perform all three dangerous activities.

Regardless of how likely they are to cause accidents, drivers who are high are very capable of causing tragedies. On May 17th a Portland man pleaded guilty to smoking pot before fatally striking a pedestrian in Gresham. Jacob McLeod Walters received a sentence of nearly 4 years in prison and a 3-year probation. The accident occurred on Burnside Street at the intersection with NE 181st Avenue after 8 in the morning.

What are the Penalties for Driving High?

Since there is no way to properly measure a driver’s THC content, driving under the influence of any amount of it will result in a DUII. Penalties vary depending on your previous record. A first DUII conviction includes a fine between $1,000 and $6,250, at least 48 hours (and up to 1 year) in jail, or both. You also lose your driver’s license for a minimum of 30 days. These penalties only get worse the more convictions you have.

When you need compensation for injuries caused by a Portland traffic accident, Portland personal injury attorney Richard Rizk is the man you need on your side. Mr. Rizk has worked for insurers in the past, and can aggressively negotiate for a fair claim. Call Rizklaw at 503.245.5677 or email him at