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Feb 21, 2014 1:02 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Study: Drugged drivers in more fatal accidents

TUCSON - A new study suggests higher acceptance of marijuana might be making roads more dangerous.

On June 22, 2012, Bruce Purdy died after a motorcycle accident on Picture Rocks Road near Sandario Road. An SUV crossed the center line and deputies found marijuana in the vehicle, according to the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

Robin Purdy said she found out about her husband's death more than 2 hours after the accident.

"It's like losing half of myself," she said. "There's no other way to describe it."

A recent Columbia University study showed marijuana is being found more often in drivers who die in car crashes. In 1999, 4.2 percent of drivers had marijuana in their system. In 2010, that number almost tripled to 12.2 percent.

"I see it coming. With all this legalization, it's going to happen to other people," Purdy said. "This is going to be a huge problem."

Nationwide, driver deaths decreased in the years studied. 22,971 drivers died in 1999 compared to 16,864 in 2010, according to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration.

Moe Asnani, a co-owner of Downtown Dispensary, said he tells customers not to drive after using his products. But he thinks people are intentionally picking only data that make marijuana look bad.

"Marijuana may be being singled out here for a certain purpose," Asnani said. "But you'll find that a lot of people who do end up in such a situation may have consumed more than just one drug."

Asnani said the laws are complicated because marijuana can stay in a driver's system more than a week, making it difficult to tell when somebody is actually impaired.

"They do want to see marijuana go away. They don't like the fact that recreational or medical marijuana is becoming available," Asnani said. "But they are the minority. So it is a little bit of a witch hunt."

The Tucson Police Department has been investigating DUIs involving drugs since the 1980s, according to Sgt. Chris Widmer.

"There's a slight increase, but it's nothing alarming," Widmer said. "And we always have patrol officers looking for impaired drivers whether it's alcohol, marijuana or any other type of substance."

The penalties for a DUI with alcohol or drugs are all very severe.

"When the impairment doesn't match their alcohol level, that's when we will call in one of our drug recognition experts," he said, "who will dig a little bit further into, and has the training to veer off into which substance is causing this impairment."

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