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Since pot legalization, driving under influence has steadily risen, state says

SEATTLE — Washington State Patrol troopers say whether you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s equally dangerous to yourself and others on the road.

“People have misconception of marijuana and use of marijuana. Some drivers believe they are a better driver under influence of marijuana, but statistics show you are twice as likely to kill yourself or someone else while under influence of marijuana,” said WSP Trooper Brooke Bova.

Since marijuana became legal in Washington state, statistics show driving under its influence has steadily gone up.

Statewide, of the 503 fatal crashes in 2016, 105 of them were caused by drivers who tested positive for marijuana, according to the Washington Safety Transportation Commission.

“We don’t have a breath test for marijuana or drugs,” said State Patrol Trooper Chase Van Cleave.

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Van Cleave says if troopers pull over a driver they suspect is impaired, they’ll administer the standard field sobriety test.

Van Cleave says if he decides to arrest a driver for drug impairment, a judge needs to give the go-ahead on a search warrant for things like blood tests, to confirm the suspected drug use -- a process that can take a few hours.

“Then we move on to a search warrant so we can draw blood legally so we can submit that in for testing to show us what is in the blood that is impairing the person,” said Van Cleave.

Troopers say just like with alcohol, marijuana affects each person differently, depending on all kinds of factors, including how much they smoked or ingested, how recently they used the drugs and how often they use it overall.

“You feel like you’re OK or normal to go out and drive and do things, but in reality, you’re not. There are chemicals in that that just affect the body and it impairs the ability to drive safely,” said Van Cleave.

He adds that the use of marijuana isn’t the issue, it’s what people do while they are high that can come with serious or deadly consequences.

“If you choose to use it (marijuana), we’re OK with that -- just don’t operate a vehicle. It’s not the fatal crashes, but the serious injury ones, you don’t have to die for it to be life-changing,” said Van Cleave.