Curing Vermont Governor’s Fear of Stoned Drivers

Researchers Find Cannabis May Limit Some Driving Abilities
Photo by Getty Images

An open letter to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott:

Dear Gov. Scott,

On your desk is a bill passed by Vermont’s legislature, which has become the first in the nation to pass marijuana legalization without a citizen’s initiative. This would make Vermont the ninth state in the nation to end adult cannabis prohibition. You’ve stated that you’re not ideologically opposed to marijuana legalization.

But you’re withholding your signature from that legalization of personal cannabis cultivation and marijuana possession for the time being because, as you put it, you’re “incredibly concerned about highway safety.”

Why? It’s not like legalization invents cars and weed.

In the most recent year of data (2014-2015), the National Survey on Drug Use and Health ranks Vermont second in the nation for the self-reported monthly consumption of marijuana by people aged 12 and older, at 14.74 percent (Colorado was tops at 16.57 percent). Vermont was tops for use by college-age people (18-25) at 34.95 percent and fourth for older adults (26+) at 11.61 percent (Colorado wins again at 14.65 percent).

In the most recent year of data (2015), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranks Vermont third in the nation in fewest overall traffic fatalities (just 57) and sixth in the nation in fatalities per 100,000 miles driven (just 0.78 in a nation that averages 1.13). Of all the states that have legalized medical marijuana, Vermont has seen the third-greatest decline in fatality rate since the passage of their law.

So how is it, Governor, that one-in-seven Vermonters, including over one-third of college-aged Vermonters, have smoked pot this month, yet Vermont is one of the safest states for driving in America? (By the way, Colorado and Washington bested the national fatality rate in 2015, too, at 1.08 and 0.95, respectively.)

How did Vermont manage to have over 76,000[*] people of driving age smoking weed per month, yet on average, just 4.75 died in a car crash that month?

This isn’t an anomaly, by the way, Governor.

Looking back as far as 2002-2003, Vermont has been 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the nation every year in monthly toking rates, except 2012-2013, when it was 7th. Vermont’s rate has consistently been three-to-six points higher than the national average, putting it over a third to almost double the national rate year-by-year.

Same goes for the safety of driving in Vermont, which in this century has been the 1st, 2nd or 3rd safest state in which to drive five times and, on average, is the 9th-safest state measured by fatalities per 100,000 miles driven. Since 2008, Vermont has been six-to-42 percent safer than the U.S. average, measured by fatalities per 100,000 miles driven.

If there were some huge traffic safety threat from marijuana and driving, don’t you think we would have seen it by now, Gov. Scott?

Self-reported pot smoking increased dramatically in the late 1970s, decreased dramatically in the 1980s, rose again in the 1990s and has leveled off in the 21st century. Yet, the national driving fatality rates have declined steadily year after year.

Sure, a lot of that decline owes to better-built cars, more auto safety features, stricter DUI enforcement and other factors. But in 2015, three-quarters of the states (18 of 24) with medical or adult-use marijuana legalization were lower than the national average for auto fatalities. Only seven states that prohibit marijuana beat the national average in 2015.

Tolerating marijuana use doesn’t seem to be leading to stoned mayhem on the freeways, Governor.

If it were, you’d think we’d see lots of crashes near hempfests, Cannabis Cups and Snoop Dogg concerts, and they just aren’t happening to any degree greater than regular traffic and far less than venues where booze is served.

But don’t believe me, as I clearly have a biased agenda. Believe the science, which has shown that once you correct for age and gender, marijuana-positive drivers have no statistically-greater risk of crashing than sober drivers.

Fear of stoned drivers is not a logical reason to withhold your signature on legalization, Governor.

Vermont state troopers have always had the training and power to bust stoned drivers, and legalization does not change that. Your citizens will continue to smoke a lot of pot and drive very safely. Your law enforcement resources spent on enforcing cannabis prohibition can now be directed toward improving traffic safety.

Please do the right thing, Gov. Scott, and with your signature, end the needless punishment of cannabis consumers and cultivators.

[*] As of 2015, 75,052 Vermonters aged 18-25 multiplied by 34.95 percent toking monthly, plus 431,067 Vermonters aged 26+ multiplied by 11.61 percent toking monthly equals 76,277 monthly-toking driving-age Vermonters.

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