impaired driving prevention bill

A new bipartisan bill to help prevent drug-impaired driving has been filed in Congress, and was drafted with the input of one’s the country’s leading cannabis reform advocacy organizations.

In crafting the proposed legislation, Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) and Troy Balderson (R-OH) sought the expertise of NORML, a group which has campaigned for an end to federal marijuana prohibition since 1970. The resulting bill would set aside $5 million annually as part of a grant program to educate the public on the dangers of drug-impaired driving.

Marijuana legalization opponents often claim legal adult-use sales will inevitably result in more people driving under the influence of cannabis. Research to date, however, paints a grayer picture.

A comprehensive annual Canadian survey on marijuana use found that after legalization in 2018 there was no change in the percentage of drivers reporting they’d consumed marijuana within two hours of getting behind the wheel. In fact, there was a drop of four percent in the number of people who said they’d been a passenger in a vehicle with someone who’d recently consumed cannabis compared with pre-legalization figures.

A 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) also calls into question whether there is a link between marijuana consumption and vehicle accidents, noting “some studies [find] little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”

While very few credible marijuana legalization advocates would recommend driving shortly after consuming weed, it’s important to back legislation up with evidence, not just sentiment. With regards to the new bill to combat drug-impaired driving, this is how NORML see their role; to encourage data-informed practices in drug legislation.

Under the bill’s provisions, state officials seeking grant funding must base subsequent educational materials on “evidence and strategies” recommended by, among other peer-reviewed sources, the 2019 CRS report and a 2017 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In spite of the CRS report, which also noted the difficulty in determining and measuring a threshold of impairment with THC, the House passed a bill in July that would compel states with legal adult-use cannabis to look into developing public educational resources to discourage driving under the influence of marijuana. Some states with legal marijuana have gone a step further and set marijuana DUI laws establishing limits of 2-5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. This comes despite the fact recent research found drivers with THC at these levels were no more likely to crash than drivers with no THC in their blood.

Whilst the precise relationship between marijuana use and driving ability remains unclear, this hasn’t stopped Oklahoma from launching a pilot cannabis breathalyzer program. For Rep. Rice, however, there’s no doubt that driving under the influence of drugs is as dangerous as doing so with alcohol.

“Despite common misconceptions, drug-impaired driving is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, and that’s why this bill to expand public education and awareness is so important,” Rice wrote in a press release. “I’ve been working on these issues for my entire career, and I have seen the immense pain and tragedy that they can cause far too many times.”

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