by Olivier on 18/06/2018 | Legal & Politics

Cannabis and driving in the Netherlands – Part 2: Cannabis vs alcohol

Cannabis and driving It is illegal to drive a vehicle after having consumed more than a specified quantity of alcohol or cannabis. Cannabis users are dealt with particularly severely in this regard. Why this does not actually help road safety is explained in an exclusive multi-part series from the Cannabis News Network. In Part 2, the focus is on Cannabis vs alcohol.

Since 1 July 2017, police have been testing drivers not only for alcohol but also for other substances such as amphetamine, cocaine and cannabis. Anyone who is over a given limit will face criminal charges. Although this seems sensible on first sight, if you look more closely is actually very unfair.

Why the Dutch legislation is unfair

For alcohol, tables have existed for some time that pair up given levels of alcohol with given levels of punishment. The determining factor is the extent to which the ability to drive is impaired. In other words, the more someone has drunk, the tougher the penalty.

There are similar tables for cannabis, too, but for some reason the courts are much harsher for cannabis than for alcohol.

In an interview with Cannabis News Network, lawyer Ilonka Kaman suggests that the penalties are “disproportionately high”. With just 3 micrograms of THC per litre of blood (by way of comparison, in Colorado the threshold is 5 micrograms), the fine is EUR 850 and you lose your driving licence for six months. This level of punishment corresponds to a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.16%, which is more than three times the legal limit!

It is even more alarming if you look at the punishments for combined consumption. In that case the minimum measurable levels apply – a BAC of 0.02% and 1 microgram of THC. These blood levels could realistically be found in someone who drank a beer an hour ago and had smoked a joint 24 hours earlier.

How alcohol and cannabis affect your ability to drive

Kaman is highly critical of the law as it stands, because it is based on the assumption that cannabis has a negative effect on the ability to drive. However, it is unclear whether that is actually the case. Reliable scientific studies do not exist, as Professor Robert Verpoorte confirms.

One person who knows a lot about this subject is Saskia de Craen. As a scientist she has been studying the field of road safety for many years. Like alcohol, cannabis slows down reaction time, which has a negative effect on the ability to drive. Cannabis users notice this and adapt their driving style accordingly. They generally drive more slowly and more defensively, as tests in the US have shown.

The situation is completely different with alcohol. Alcohol removes inhibitions and causes drinkers to underestimate the risks. You only have to look at the accident statistics to see exactly what effect that has. Da Craen estimates that in the Netherlands alone between 75 and 114 people die in traffic accidents due to alcohol.

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