Study Shows Drivers in Legal States Less Likely to Drive While High |

The study on drivers was conducted by researchers at the Center for Health, Analytics, Media and Policy, RTI International and Office of Research Protection in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which was published online on April 23, but is slated to be published in Preventive Medicine Reports in June 2022.

The study analyzed consumption behaviors of 1,249 individuals. Over one third of participants reported driving under the influence within three hours of getting high in the last 30 days, and another one third shared their use of cannabis within 20 or more days within a 30-day period.

“Current cannabis users in recreational and medical-only cannabis states were significantly less likely to report driving within three hours of getting high in the past 30 days, compared to current users living in states without legal cannabis,” researchers wrote. “The one exception was frequent cannabis users who lived in medical cannabis states. Their risk of DUIC [driving under the influence of cannabis] did not differ significantly from frequent users living in states without legal cannabis.”

Researchers suggested a solution to address driving under the influence of cannabis, which should be specifically targeted toward states without legal cannabis programs. “Our findings suggest that DUIC prevention is most needed in states without legalized cannabis. Because regulation of cannabis products in non-legal environments is not possible, mass media campaigns may be a good option for providing education about DUIC.” 

Overall, researchers concluded that education campaigns could help continue to prevent people from driving under the influence after consuming cannabis. “Although all states should educate its citizens about the potential dangers of using cannabis and driving, this analysis suggests that states without legal cannabis are particularly in need of DUIC prevention efforts,” they wrote. “States should consider mass media campaigns as a method of reaching all cannabis users, including more frequent users, with information about the dangers of DUIC. Medical states may consider targeting frequent users by disseminating information about DUIC through medical dispensaries.”

The study also shared that it found three other studies that mirrored this evidence. Two were shared in 2020, and one was published in 2021, with varying levels of approach regarding analyzing the effect of recreational and/or medical cannabis legalization.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano commented on the results of this study with the hope that it will educate those who fear the negative effects of cannabis legalization. “These findings ought to reassure those who feared that legalization might inadvertently be associated with relaxed attitudes toward driving under the influence,” said Armentano. “These conclusions show that this has not been the case and that, in fact, consumers residing in legal marijuana states are less likely to engage in this behavior than are those residing in states where cannabis possession remains criminalized.”

States such as Massachusetts are gearing up to increase how they enforce influenced driving laws. Governor Charlie Baker announced legislation in November 2021 that would “provide law enforcement officers with more rigorous drug detection training and will strengthen the legal process by authorizing the courts to acknowledge that the active ingredient in marijuana can and does impair motorists.” However, Baker’s legislation does not address how to approach measuring impairment or properly identifying if a person has recently consumed cannabis and is impaired, or if they consumed days or weeks before an incident and are no longer impaired. 

A recent study published in Canada expresses the need for a better way to detect impairment accurately. “We would love to have that one measure that says, okay, this person is impaired, or they aren’t,” said lead author Sarah Windle. “But unfortunately, in the case of cannabis, it just isn’t that simple.”

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