We Already Have Traffic Laws, Leave Cannabis Out of Them
One of the last remaining… ahem… roadblocks to cannabis legalization in this country is the ongoing conundrum about how to handle people who get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle with the devil’s lettuce coursing through their veins. 33 states plus Washington D.C. have medical marijuana laws on the books and 11 states have now legalized the adult recreational use of the plant. In all of these cases, the fight for reform was opposed by outspoken critics of cannabis who dutifully parroted concerns about the detrimental effects that legal weed would have on our road safety.
Time and again we’ve been told that same story by the same prohibitionist groups, and time and again the statistics fail to fall in line with their predictions. Unfortunately, despite being faced with the inevitable end of cannabis prohibition, cannabis haters still have three tired tactics left in their toolbelts:
Whine about stoned drivers
Attack THC and limit consumption methods
“What about the kiiiiiiiiids??”
Not only are there many post-legalization studies coming out of maturing markets like Colorado and Washington state showing that cannabis-related traffic accidents are not going up, but there are just as many studies showing that alcohol sales and prescription painkiller use tend to drop in areas that legalize cannabis. Regardless of how many people are smoking weed, the further the consumption of booze and pills drops, it only makes sense that roadways will get safer.
The truth is, cannabis really does affect everyone slightly differently and the problem is, some people definitely should not be behind the wheel while stoned. Others, however, drive more cautiously and are more alert after a toke or two. To compound the confusion for researchers even further, different strains of weed affect different users differently. Add in another deep level of variables with edibles, concentrates, and other alternative consumption methods and you quickly see that trying to lump it all into one category or concern is naïve.
In most cases, cannabis functions as an accelerant of other physical or mental states. If you’re partying and pass on the pilsners because you prefer a pre-roll, then chances are you’ll be fine driving home. But if you mix the booze and the buds, you may have a problem. Similarly, if you are truly too tired to drive sober, getting baked before or during the trip is probably not the best solution. But countless cannabis users make it from Point A to Point B – often with far less stress – safe and sound every day.
The real wrench in the gears for those looking to curb cannabis and driving is the fact that marijuana metabolites can remain in your body for 30 days or more after your last time consuming. In other words, you could piss hot for a toke you took two weeks ago which clearly has no impact on your ability to operate a motor vehicle 14 days later.
This makes roadside drug testing – and even lab-grade drug testing – truly pointless for law enforcement officers looking to keep our roads safe, and they know it. Many officers will resort to their age old technique of claiming to smell an illegal substance in the car in an attempt to coerce some form of confession from the driver, but as cannabis consumers become more savvy and as more lawyers begin to take cannabis clientele seriously, the cops are losing their ability to drop the hammer on drivers suspected of being stoned.
How many people are driving around baked these days? An online survey recently published by the cannabis delivery middle man Eaze aims to answer that question, at least here in California. The survey included 527 people who all admitted to having consumed cannabis at least once in the past 30 days.
Of those surveyed, 45% reported having driven immediately after consuming cannabis. That number is probably much higher but that is the inherent problem with polling – people lie. Roughly the same number (46%) had no idea if there is a legal limit as to how much cannabis can be in a driver’s bloodstream. Further, respondents overwhelmingly (81%) knew that driving “under the influence” of cannabis can be construed as a crime, but 62% had no idea what penalties or consequences may come from doing so.
So, what’s the truth?
For starters, current technology really has no way of determining just how recently someone has ingested cannabis, though trust me, they’ve tried. Instead, crooked cops often use metabolite levels to make their case but again, those metabolites stick around for quite some time and are not accurate indicators of sobriety.
In California, where the Eaze survey was conducted, Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill 127 into law which gives the green light (and the financial backing) to the California Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, to study the effects of weed-impaired driving.
Hold up… like we said, actual peer-reviewed scientists and research labs are already doing these studies and the evidence is stacking up faster than traffic on the 405 through LA. Why would the Highway Patrol be tasked with this duty? By the time they come out with their predictable condemnation of cannabis, we’ll probably all be in self-driving cars anyway, rendering most of their jobs useless.
The state’s own DMV declares that “the use of any drug (the law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs) which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.”
Cool, well what scientific metric does the state employ to fairly and uniformly determine every single motorist’s “ability to drive safely”? The fact is, California does not have a standardized limit on how much THC can be in a driver’s system. The state’s Assembly Committee on Public Safety released its own analysis that “there is no per se level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence as a result of marijuana use.” Ironically, that analysis was prepared by state officials specifically for lawmakers and the governor to consider when deciding on how to vote on AB 127. Maybe they read it wrong…
Cali is not a pedestrian-friendly state and the ability to drive is one of the few things that Prop 64 didn’t fuck up, but again, prohibitionists have not given up just yet.
As federal lawmakers watch the California cannabis experiment unfold, they will surely be keeping a close eye on traffic stats and on if or how the state will choose to crack down on cannabis consuming motorists. In reality, the solution is incredibly simple because it is already in place.
We have hundreds of traffic laws already. If a stoner breaks them, they get a ticket, or worse, depending on the incident. Leave the fucking plant out of it. Oh, you smell weed officer? Smells like you missed out on a good time, am I being detained or am I free to go?