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Driving Under the Influence of Weed—Enjoyable or Not?

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Researchers Find Cannabis May Limit Some Driving Abilities

Is driving under the influence of cannabis (DUIC) enjoyable? A recent study in the journal Transportation Research suggests this question is the key to understanding and reducing the use of cannabis while driving.

The August 2017 article by Nicolas Ward, Jay Ott, and several colleagues looks at “cultural predictors of future intention to drive under the influence of cannabis (DUIC).” They studied the influence of traffic safety culture on the intention to drive after using cannabis. The study was based on a 14-item survey used to collect data from 416 drivers in Washington State.

Driving under the influence of cannabis remains an important issue as more and more consumers are obtaining legal access throughout the United States.

The extent of impairment experienced after marijuana use varies greatly among consumers, in part mediated by the amount and potency of the cannabis used and the tolerance of the user to its effects. Nonetheless, it is widely accepted among users and nonusers alike that driving under the influence represents a potential threat to individual and public safety.

Also, with respect to political and legislative treatment of the legalization issue, there is reasonable concern over this issue. Simply put, the idea of increasing the number of drivers under the influence of cannabis tends to decrease support for its legalization.

More importantly, developing effective and appropriate public policies to decrease and discourage DUIC is an emerging priority for researchers and public policy officials. In this contest, the findings of Ward et al are revealing.

First, only a small percentage of these randomly surveyed drivers indicated they had any future intentions of driving under the influence of cannabis, just 11 percent.  But there is the important finding—drivers who believed that driving under the influence of cannabis was enjoyable were 3.5 times more likely to report such an intention.

On the other hand, drivers who agreed that cannabis impairs performance and that people close to them would be disappointed in them if they drove under the influence were twice as likely not to report an intention to drive under the influence.

The really interesting finding from this study is that cannabis users think driving under the influence is more popular than it actually is.

The researchers report that “whereas only a small minority of respondents had the intention to drive after using cannabis (11%), a large percentage of respondents (34.6%) thought that most drivers intend to drive after using cannabis. Also, the perception that most drivers (>50%) have the attitude that DUIC is enjoyable (36.3%) and cool (19.2%) seems to be exaggerated because relatively few drivers actually reported these attitudes (12.3% and 3.4%, respectively).”

This is especially a problem with drivers who have a medical card for cannabis use, for which an intention to drive under the influence increases even more dramatically if they believe that other drives thought DUIC was enjoyable.

Consequently, the authors believe that strategies that accurately portray what the majority of drivers believe about DUIC can be instrumental in reducing its occurrence.

“Together, these results suggest several culture-based strategies to reduce DUIC amongst cannabis users—especially those using cannabis for medical purposes. For example, potential strategies could include (1) media campaigns that highlight non-enjoyable aspects of DUIC and communicate DUIC is not ‘normal’ as part of community culture; (2) education to convey impairment effects of cannabis on driving performance; (3) rules and ‘contracts’ established amongst family, friends, and workplaces that make DUIC socially unacceptable; and (4) increasing visibility of DUIC enforcement.”

These findings, like all research, suggest questions for additional research. The study’s authors pose several questions that they would like to see addressed in the future. Why does the belief in enjoyability promote a “positive attitude” about DUIC? “For example, does this attitude result from the belief that cannabis increases alertness or calmness?”

Regardless of research on the effects of cannabis on driving, the prevalence of DUIC or cultural attitudes about it, the argument for legalizing cannabis can be reduced to a simple proposition. Marijuana should be regulated as a legal substance, like alcohol, rather than criminalized. This is a simple proposition easily understood and supported by most Americans.

Consequently, social norms about driving under the influence of alcohol should be extended to driving under the influence of cannabis. It’s a fair deal—society agrees to legalization, and cannabis users agree not to drive under the influence. It may indeed be enjoyable for some, but legalization is more enjoyable and more enjoyable to even more people.

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