As America blazes its path towards marijuana legalization, federal agencies and traffic safety experts are worried that the full ramifications of legalizing the once-illicit drug remain unknown. The latest smoke signal that states should study the matter further came out last week when the federal government reported a 6 percent increase in highway crashes across states that legalized the drug. The previous study, which focused on the first three states to legalize the drug for recreational purposes, found a 5.2 percent increase in highway crashes.
Unlike alcohol, where a breathalyzer can easily and objectively determine whether a person is too intoxicated to drive, the push for an objective sobriety measurement for cannabis remains elusive. Currently, the police are able to perform a blood test and locate THC in the blood of the driver, however, because THC can stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks, the test lacks the ability to measure whether the driver was intoxicated while behind the wheel.
The Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, which commissioned the study, reported other troubling news in these pot-friendly locales. While drunk drivers tend to drive alone, stoned drivers, or those under the influence of marijuana, commonly drive with other people in the vehicle. Worryingly, a full 14 percent of respondents said they drove high with a child in their vehicle. According to the IIHS, the widespread acceptance of stoned driving is driven by a mentality that marijuana does not impair the ability to drive. Despite popular opinion, the number of increased accidents and fatalities seem to draw a different conclusion.
With over 30 states legalizing some form of marijuana, either for medicinal or recreational purposes, the momentum seems irreversible. Even President Trump, no fan of drugs himself, has signaled a willingness to allow states to chart their own path with marijuana laws. Given what seems to be the country’s inevitable legalization, more research will be needed on the effects of marijuana on drivers. Even more importantly, a so-called “marijuana breathalyzer” will need to be developed to ensure Americans are safe on the roadways from impaired drivers. Governor Cuomo, who is reluctantly embracing marijuana in New York, has created a task force to study the issue – including the state’s ability to mitigate the risks of selling the drug in the open market. The Governor’s view on pot appears to be in lockstep with his fellow New Yorkers with 86 expressing support for legalization and 74 percent concerned about drugged driving. Eyeing millions in desperately needed tax revenue from the legalized drug, New Yorkers can only hope a marijuana breathalyzer comes soon.
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