Commentary

Ed Wood: Skydiving without a parachute

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ed Wood, of Morrison, Colorado, who is the president of DUID Victim Voices, a Colorado-based advocacy group that represents victims of drugged driving. He was behind the effort of writing, negotiating and eventually getting passed a bill that requires Colorado to collect, analyze and report DUID data, beginning next year.

Legalizing and commercializing marijuana prior to having effective laws in place to identify and deal with its consequences is akin to skydiving without a parachute. I am personally concerned with Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID). In this regard, Vermont is no more ready to adopt S.22 than Colorado was when it legalized marijuana in 2014. Since then, Colorado’s marijuana lobby has become stronger and Colorado now has the weakest DUID laws in the nation; it is the only state to have a 5 ng/ml THC permissible inference level in blood.

Vermont’s data show a decline in fatal crashes and a decline in DUI fatalities, like Colorado once did. But this decline gives a false comfort to those who wish to legalize marijuana. Since Vermont does not collect, analyze and report DUID data, it is not readily apparent that while DUI (alcohol, drugs and combinations) fatalities may be declining, DUID prevalence and fatalities may be increasing. Legalizing marijuana will accelerate any increase in DUID prevalence, somewhat moderated by the fact that marijuana is only the second most common drug class found in DUID drivers. That is because so many Vermonters use a pharmaceutical cornucopia prior to driving, as shown by the 2016 Governor’s Highway Safety Program Report.

Yes, there are those who deny that marijuana can cause driving deaths and injuries, but abundant evidence proves otherwise. So does the death of Richard Tom of Hinesburg in 2015. Such evidence will not convince the DUID deniers, but evidence continues to mount.

But any experiment requires controlling input variables and measuring outcomes. Colorado does neither.

 

What’s wrong with “Let’s regulate marijuana like alcohol?” Simple. Marijuana is unlike alcohol chemically, biologically and metabolically. So it is irrational to use similar regulations for both. For instance, scientifically accepted per se levels can be established for alcohol but not for marijuana’s ∆9-THC. Levels of alcohol in blood represent levels in the brain, which is the organ impaired by alcohol or THC. But since THC is fat soluble, there is no correlation between THC levels in the blood and in the brain. That explains the lack of correlation between THC blood levels and impairment tests, including the likelihood of causing a crash. A driver who tests at 2 ng/ml THC in blood can be just as stoned as one who tests at 20 ng/ml.

There are those who propose learning from Colorado’s “experiment” before legalizing marijuana. But any experiment requires controlling input variables and measuring outcomes. Colorado does neither. As for controlling inputs, Colorado’s Department of Revenue reports that less than half of the marijuana consumed in the state comes from regulated sources. The record for measuring outcomes is even worse. The only outcome of marijuana legalization measured by Colorado so far is tax revenue. Fortunately, that is beginning to change. Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill June 1 to begin DUID data collection in the state. Until then one should not assume that “no news is good news.”

Vermont has a rational definition for DUID in 23 V.S.A ❡1201, but DUID is so far down on the scale of Vermonters’ concerns that there is no DUID performance target in the 2017 Governor’s Highway Safety Plan. Vermont clearly isn’t ready to legalize marijuana. No state is.


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  • John Klar

    “Legalizing marijuana will accelerate any increase in DUID prevalence,” Based on what evidence? And this author differentiates marijuana from alcohol solely on how it is tested for — which has nothing at all to do with a) the fact that alcohol impairs people astronomically more than weed and it is legal; and b) prohibition has failed utterly yet he wants to continue to incarcerate people even when they are not driving stoned. This is just a continuation of reefer madness prejudices. How about a test for opioids or methadone? Methadone is legal — where is the outcry that people will drive while using it?

  • Bob Orleck

    Why must you call names of people you don’t even know? Is saying he didn’t read S.22 supposed to mean that he would have been enlightened if he had? I have read it and find that S.22 is a tool to bring the evil of full commercialization on our towns and villages. It is the biggest threat to Vermont and I do live here. People who oppose this evil thing are people who care about other people while most of those who want this want it for self-indulgence, maybe to protect their professional licenses if they are users or even worse because it means big money. BIG MONEY! Your unsubstantiated claims are not convincing Just because you say things does not make them so. Vermont has no chance to have a truly workable roadside testing program. It’s not that simple to just say train or hire more police officers to administer “that test”. You know that there is no roadside test, that DCEP is a 12 step, complicated procedure that must be done at the station or elsewhere. We are independent Vermonters here and don’t want to be Colorado cloned slaves to Big Marijuana! Think about how Vermont will be by legalization through the eyes of an ED MD in Pueblo, CO. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs9X2qpGoUY

    • Jason Brisson

      “Why must you call names of people you don’t even know?”
      1) prohibitionist and drug czar are calling people names??
      2) I suggest you ask the same of all the people calling responsible cannabis users stoners and potheads.
      “the biggest threat to Vermont” is the people who need to use the force of government, to regulate how other Vermonters live their life.
      “Just because you say things does not make them so. ”
      Funny that is coming from someone spewing Reefer Madness propaganda.
      “You know that there is no roadside test” for heroin or methadone, but the legislature is looking into safe spaces for addicts to use, and getting out of a chemical dependency problem, by pushing another chemical from big Pharma.
      “We are independent Vermonters here and don’t want to” have others decide for us what we do, or do not do, in the privacy of our own homes.

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    Prohibitionists would have more credibility if they would look at alcohol and tobacco the same way as marijuana. Of the 80,000 to 100,000(probably more) Vermonters who use marijuana, including those who have a prescription, most by far use it in a responsible manner. The same with alcohol. It’s time stop forcing their beliefs on the rest of us. As we found out during the original prohibition, government can’t and shouldn’t legislate personal behavior. Even Gov. Scott says as much.

    • Pamela Mccoll

      why would we look at alcohol and tobacco – both cost society 10x what we collect in taxes and both are major causes of premature death ? It is impossible to use marijuana in a responsible way given that it is not safe for human consumption – causes all kinds of harm to user and non-user ? We – “the rest of us” do not want to pay for the cost this drug places on society or take the risk that we will be the victims of a drugged driving accident by a user. We have a responsiblity to one another – it is the definition of civilization – we do not live on to ourselves responsible to no one – but ourselves – that ship has sailed.
      Here is the $1.09 billion bill for 2012 for the marijuana only drugged driving costs of 2012 in Canada – http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Collisions-Attributable-to-Cannabis-Report-at-a-Glance-2017-en.pdf

    • Denise Valenti

      Shame on you for assuming all those who advocate for public safety…are anti marijuana. Folks are dying on the roads because of irresponsible drivers, included among them are those who are using marijuana in a wreckless irresponsible way. Folks denying that marijuana impaired driving is a problem are denying fellow citizens in other states….the use of medicinal marijuana.
      This is selfish. The driving concern is a factor holding up medicinal marijuana in several states. With legal medicinal or recreational marijuana comes responsibility. Solving the public health concerns related to marijuana benefits everyone. Denying that there are marijuana related driving problems harms everyone.

      • Jason Brisson

        Shame on you for assuming all those who advocate for cannabis…are anti public safety.
        I am required to wear prescription glasses to drive. If my prescription gets old and my vision declines, I am a liability that is downright dangerous and life threatening on the road. There is no blood or breathalizer test for me to fail. It is my personal responsibility to address that safety issue, and maintain compliance. No laws were passed to say that every two years I need to have my vision checked.
        Denying that there are driving problems not related to cannabis, and that cannabis users can have personal accountability, harms everyone.

  • Scott Kay

    Bob is a retired pharmacist and former VT assistant attorney general. FYI

  • Jason Brisson

    “How about an original argument?”
    You know this has everything to do with prohibition. It has to do with continuing to criminalize a plant that is not only a threat to the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the police industrial complex, and prison industrial complexes, but has legitimate medical use and surely has plenty of reason for government to legalize it for people to self-medicate.

  • Jason Brisson

    You are asking our government to continue criminalizing a plant that is less harmful than alcohol, “and do it just because you want it. Not an impressive argument”

  • Denise Valenti

    Until you travel to a state such as Massachusetts….The state SCJ is in the process/scheduled to hear and decide about the use of law enforcement expertise and observation as testimony. Trained law enforcement is key, but if the professional expertise is not acknowledged and respected … in courtrooms, those dangerous drivers will remain on the road.

  • Denise Valenti

    I am for safe and responsible adult use of marijuana. Irresponsible use of marijuana is harmful to the public. But sadly not all use is done responsibly. Driving with cannabis can be deadly. Data out of Washington state indicates that a driver in a fatal crash and testing positive to only marijuana, no other drugs or alcohol, is 5X more likely to have killed someone other than themselves compared to a driver impaired by alcohol in a fatal crash. Marijuana positive/impaired drivers harm innocent pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers and passengers.
    http://wtsc.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/2015/10/Driver-Toxicology-Testing-and-the-Involvement-of-Marijuana-in-Fatal-Crashes_REVFeb2016.pdf

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    “There are caring people who know the dangers of marijuana on the
    developing brains of children and youth, that it worsens mental health
    conditions and impaired drivers are killing people on the roads.”

    You just contradicted your first sentence. Of course you can look at tobacco and alcohol the same way.

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    According to the latest AARP Bulletin, in 2015 22,598 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses according to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    “we live in a society where the majority gets to decide or should decide what social risks we will and won’t take on or pay for.”
    1. The majority in recent polls favor legalization.
    2. Would you be for a Referendum on legalization?
    3. What about those who have a prescription for Medical Marijuana or other drugs …don’t we assume they won’t drive while impaired?

  • Mariah Sanderson

    The statements made in this comment are factually inaccurate and are not backed by peer reviewed research. Just one example – The Governors Highway Safety Association report for 2017 is showing for the first time ever that drugged driving has surpassed drunk driving as a factor in fatal crashes. 43% of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 used a legal or illegal drug, compared to 37% who tested above the legal limit for alcohol. Nearly 36% of drivers had marijuana in their system. The report states that marijuana use by drivers likely increases after a state permits recreational marijuana use. http://www.ghsa.org/resources/drugged-driving-2017

  • John Klar

    1) Being illegal under federal law is hardly a justification: it should be decriminalized under federal law, where it was prohibited to benefit certain trade groups. Perhaps you know that. 2) You tell me I know methadone is not legal in the way I want marijuana to be legal. Do you think methadone should be legal the way it is while marijuana is criminalized? 3) I have no intention of wanting to deceive people: that’s just silly; 4) You argue “I want it” and that’s why I want it legalized. You fantasize, and three times pretend to know my thoughts: I have represented numerous young people who’s lives were destroyed because of a criminal conviction for a tiny quantity of pot. If they had beer they would be fine. Hypocrisy, and absurd. And of course there is incarceration for weed: you know that, right? Emotions, Reefer Madness, hype. You have not addressed the “damage and risks of criminalizing recreational marijuana,” at all. Prohibition has failed, and you invoke continued failure. Not an impressive argument.

  • John Klar

    So incarcerate people who are not driving while impaired? Sad logic. Reefer Madness. drunk drivers kill exponentially more people, despite an easy test.

  • John Klar

    Oh, he’s a lawyer, and wants to visit his prejudices on our young people? Shameless. Maybe he makes money defending people caught with a joint… that’s it.

  • John Klar

    The driver killed your sister, not every person who smokes in their living room. I am sorry for your loss, but someone else’s sister can be incarcerated for a drug less harmful than alcohol. That is not justified by those who drive under the influence.