States have rushed to judgment on the use of medical and/or recreational marijuana. We seem to be in the 2020s equivalent of the 1920s debate over public sanctions of alcohol use.
We have to hope that governments have enough information when considering whether to legislate or allow popular votes legalizing cannabis. So far, not much is known about the exact effects on traffic safety.
Can people drive while high? Precisely how high?
According to the media platform “Governing,” 33 states and the District of Columbia so far have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.
The District of Columbia and 11 states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Vermont was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use through legislative action, rather than by popular vote. There, adults age 21 and over can grow and possess small amounts of cannabis. (However, adults are still not permitted to buy nonmedical cannabis. They can use it, they just can’t legally buy it.)
But the eventual sale of recreational marijuana in virtually every state seems certain. Dissenters are laughed off as being too old or too conservative – far behind the times.
But the truth is that, while driving drunk is measurable and forbidden, driving high is forbidden but not measurable.
Federal law forbids selling, possessing or using marijuana, but the federal government seems disinclined to overrule or challenge state laws that are in conflict with those strict prohibitions.
Here’s what AARP – the American Association of Retired Persons – had to say in its Bulletin recently on the subject of driving safety in this era of relaxed anti-pot sympathies:
“The AAA (American Automobile Association) Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that nearly 15 million Americans drove under the influence of cannabis in the 30 days surveyed. In a 2019 study of 790 medical marijuana users, one in five admitted to having driven ‘very high,’ and 56 percent had hit the road within two hours of a dose.”
AARP quotes Thomas Marcotte, co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego: “It’s clear that cannabis can impair driving.”
AARP goes on: Cannabis “interferes with vital vehicle-handling skills, including reaction time, mental focus, the ability to stay in your lane, even your sense of time and distance, research shows. Cannabis boosts the risk of accidents as much as 14-fold. It also doubles the odds for a fatal collision.”
The snag is that there is no research on the amount required to impose such disastrous results.
Studies are currently being conducted to pin down what needs to be known before responsible legislation is approved.
Human beings have done a disastrous job overseeing the consumption of alcohol prior to taking the wheel. Let’s not make the same mistake with recreational marijuana.
Police can form judgments on whether driving was accomplished prudently. Instead, give them the tools and information to prove it – better yet, to predict it.