Whenever cannabis reform is being proposed cannabis opponents are almost always there to offer up the ‘there will be a stoned-driving epidemic’ argument.
Obviously, legalization does not automatically equate to a stoned driver epidemic otherwise it would be on display in the now 9 states (and D.C.) that have legalized cannabis for adult use.
But driving under the influence, of cannabis or any other substance, is a very serious issue and is worth studying extensively.
With more states looking to legalize cannabis the debate surrounding cannabis use and driving will not go away.
Even in states that have legalized cannabis the debate still rages on as to how to keep consumers from driving under the influence.
The debate can be filled with emotion and half-truths, both of which are ultimately unhelpful. But what do the facts say?
Data is not always useful
Data put out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that vehicle crashes identified as being caused by cannabis use increased by 3% in Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado post-legalization.
Other data from various states have shown an increase in cannabis DUIs in some states post-legalization.
But just because that type of data exists does not mean that it is useful. In the case of DUIs, that can easily be explained by increased enforcement.
Tying a crash to cannabis use is extremely difficult because studies looking at the matter only consider if cannabis was present in a person’s system.
Definitively proving that cannabis was the cause of a crash is nearly impossible to do short of a signed confession from a driver.
Crash and DUI data is often touted by cannabis opponents, but the data has to be taken with a grain of salt for the reasons previously mentioned.
Per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:
“Some studies have found that using the drug could more than double crash risk, while others, including a large-scale federal case-control study, have failed to find a link between marijuana use and crashes. Studies on the effects of legalizing marijuana for medical use also have been inconclusive.”
Cannabis impairment is extremely tough to pin down
Most states have a per se blood alcohol limit of .08%. If that threshold is met or crossed, it’s a safe bet that the person is impaired.
No such standard exists for cannabis, and likely never will despite what law enforcement, inventors, and cannabis opponents like to think.
The reason for this is that cannabis interacts with each person’s biology differently.
Cannabis can stay in frequent users’ systems for a long time but newbie users could see THC leave their system relatively quickly.
Frequent cannabis users can have THC levels off the charts and be fine to drive while newbie cannabis users could be completely intoxicated and still not have much THC in their system.
Just because someone has THC in their system does not mean that they are intoxicated, which is why cannabis breathalyzers that only measure the presence of cannabis involve junk science.
How does cannabis compare to alcohol?
A study from 2015 looked at various substances and how they affected the ability for people to safely operate a motor vehicle and avoid a crash.
The study found that drivers who tested positive for cannabis were no more likely to crash than sober drivers, which is absolutely worth mentioning often.
Drivers that had consumed alcohol, on the other hand, were nearly 6 times as likely to crash compared to sober drivers.
Concerns about impaired driving, of any kind, are valid and should be taken seriously. However, cannabis prohibition will never be justified because of overblown fears about stoned drivers.
Every responsible person wants the public roadways to be safe. That is something that everyone should be able to agree upon.
However, stigmatizing cannabis consumers and creating public policy that is based more on fears than on science is something that should be avoided at all costs.