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.