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Pot Matters: Marijuana and Driving Safety

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The American Automobile Association (AAA) recently released two sobering reports about marijuana and driving.

First, the AAA safety foundation reported that the legal tests to determine if someone is driving impaired in six states have no scientific foundation—THC blood levels do not reliably indicate impairment. Second, the share of drivers in fatal crashes in Washington who had recently used marijuana has doubled since the state enacted legalization.

The AAA has released several excellent reports on issues related to cannabis and driving, and they understand, for example, that “effects appear to depend on experience with driving and drug use. Frequent users may be more practiced at compensatory defenses but more likely to assume they can drive safely.”

One problem the AAA has detected is that while most people believe they should not drive if they have been drinking alcohol or consuming both alcohol and marijuana, many marijuana users believe it is okay to drive an hour after they have stopped smoking. A lot of data indicates three to four hours makes more sense, despite the aforementioned benefits of experience with both driving and use of the herb.

The recommendation of the AAA makes sense: “Cannabis users could be counseled through public education campaigns to observe a time-based restriction on their driving of perhaps four to six hours following smoking, or six to eight hours following oral ingestion.” This, they argue, would significantly reduce impaired driving, but not completely because of variables such as THC potency, usage patterns, and specifically, “individual physiology, tolerance and circumstances/manner of use.”

There are different policy options for assessing impaired driving related to recent cannabis use.

One is the per se approach based on blood-serum levels, the one subject to criticism in the recent AAA report. Another is to have law enforcement officers trained in detecting impairment. Both approaches are problematic, and as legalization spreads, the use of different impairment detection efforts will be evaluated and refined. That’s another discussion.

The issue here, though, is prevention, because the AAA makes an excellent point—cannabis users should be counseled on safe practices. This is what the principle of harm reduction is all about.

The potency of cannabis, both legal and illegal, has been increasing. New products available in legal markets have contributed to this trend. Also, legal or not, both new and experienced users of cannabis are getting more enthusiastic about the herb as quality, variety and legal circumstances change.

Some people who use cannabis do so with great seriousness. Others treat the herb quite casually. Most people’s use of cannabis fall somewhere in between. What’s important, though, is that cannabis users treat the herb with respect. That’s what responsible cannabis use is all about. There’s nothing wrong with the casual use of cannabis, but only if such use is informed use.

Cannabis is a wonderful substance, an elegant botanical substance with a variety of physiological and consciousness-changing effects. The characteristics that make it so interesting, and so therapeutically valuable, are not to be taken lightly.

People who use cannabis have different motivations and interests. That’s fine. But, regardless of those motivations and objectives, they should understand the drug’s effects on them, and how these effects affect their safety and the safety of those around them. Many over-the-counter medications for coughs, colds, allergies and other common ailments come with a warning not to drive or operate heavy machinery under their influence. The effects of these drugs are less sophisticated then cannabis; it is common sense to apply the same considerations to cannabis use.

Unfortunately, there are many Americans whose motivation in taking recreational drugs, such as  alcohol and cannabis, is to consume as much as possible as soon as possible. These are not typical cannabis users, but in some respects, they are the users who are most in need of harm reduction information.

What is so remarkable about the recent reports by the AAA Safety Foundation is their honesty, sincerity and their basic respect for cannabis users.

The agenda of the AAA is transparent—they want to prevent automobile accidents and save lives. Respect engenders respect. Cannabis users believe in responsible use.

Don’t drive impaired. And even if, through experience, you know you’re not impaired, wait a little longer and set a good example for those still learning about cannabis use, driving and safety.

Respect safety. Respect the herb.

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