There are times when a journalist's cynicism can become a barrier to getting the truth. This may be one such subject.
Oklahoma voters are asked to decide if the medical professionals of our state will be able to utilize Cannabis medicines in the care of patients who suffer various physiological and psychological conditions. This option would put Marijuana products on the same legal footing as Demerol, Hydrocodone, Ritalin, and other controlled substances.
Until now, Marijuana products have been more completely restricted than these deadly drugs, even though there is no medical evidence of any human ever dying from a toxic overdose from smoking too much marijuana.
Public safety advocates would love for everyone to totally abstain from all impairing substance, But that's not an experiment we want to return to. While totally sober people are the best drivers, the cannabis consumers are clearly less dangerous than liquor consumers.
I turned to a Colorado journalist who studied the impact of full legalization of Cannabis products in that state. Here's what Chuck Smith wrote for ColoradoPolitics.com
Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” Recent headlines were a perfect example of Twain’s observation.
Some newspapers and news shows played up a story that contends legalized marijuana has made our roads and highways less safe. It may sound plausible, but the facts don’t support this assertion.
1. In fact, marijuana legalization has not increased overall traffic fatality rates nor the total number of non-fatal crashes, according to two separate studies conducted by Columbia University and the University of Texas-Austin.
2. Additionally, Colorado State Patrol reports a decrease in the number of driving impaired accidents since marijuana sales became legal.
Despite this academic research and on-the-ground expertise from state police, it was a study from a group supported by auto insurers last week that captured the most – and loudest – headlines. “Car crashes leap in states with legalized marijuana,” was just one of many headlines characterizing The Highway Loss Data Institute’s (HLDI) finding that three states where marijuana is legal – Colorado, Washington and Oregon – had an increase in traffic accidents.
However, the group lacked any data showing that the increase in collisions was caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana. Although distracted driving such as texting, road construction and more miles driven have been noted by insurance companies as possible factors for increased collision rates, the HLDI asserts that because there was an increase of insurance claims in states with legal marijuana, the two must be linked.
The public safety risk of impaired driving must be taken seriously. It is clear that more studies are needed in this area and should be overseen by experienced researchers and evaluated with reliable data. But in the meantime, it is the details – not the headlines – that Coloradans should assess.
When Colorado voters legalized marijuana, some feared that stoned drivers would create havoc on our roadways.
That didn’t happen.
3. A study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health evaluated crash fatality rates in Colorado and Washington before and after the states legalized marijuana. The researchers then compared those rates to eight control states with similar traffic, roadway and population characteristics that did not alter their marijuana laws. The changes in motor-vehicle-crash fatality rates observed in Washington and Colorado were not “significantly different” from those observed in the control states.
4. Another study in the same journal last year found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower traffic fatality rates compared to states where marijuana is not legal. And there was an immediate decline in car deaths following the establishment of a legal marijuana market – particularly among those under 44 years of age.
5. Finally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that while marijuana negatively impacts several skills needed for safe driving, it’s “unclear whether marijuana use actually increases the risk of car crashes.”
Colorado has been the country’s leader in creating a comprehensive regulatory framework that balances consumer safety, law enforcement needs and the formation of a legitimate and responsible cannabis industry. While the research arm of the auto insurance industry asks lawmakers in states considering legalizing marijuana to first look at its study, we ask those lawmakers to look at our regulations, public education campaigns and the collaborative efforts undertaken by our elected officials and the cannabis industry to make marijuana legalization a success in Colorado.
Chuck Smith makes a great point about misleading headlines. If every liquor consumer in the state suddenly switched to cannabis products, and the traffic fatalities dropped by 50%, you might see a deceptive headline say that Cannabis consumption is causing more deaths than ever before. They might add that Cannabis-related fatalities are worse than liquor.
But Smith helps us see through this.
Here's a study conducted by a Washington state tv station, KIRO. I'm splitting the report into 2 parts. The first part demonstrates what a medical cannabis product might do to a patient's ability to resume daily life, including the driving of a passenger car.
These participants show that the 'legal limit' is far lower than where impairment begins to set in. All of these drivers were judged as acceptable to operate a vehicle, based on actual motor skills testing.
The KIRO testing team went further. They wanted to see where the participants began to lose their capacity. Notice that the drivers began driving slower, even when their performance is still somewhat acceptable?
This is where cannabis products are shown to have a great advantage over liquor, as far as public safety is concerned.
This portion of the driving test shows the impact of ultra high 'binge' consumption. One important factor is the awareness of the drivers regarding their fitness to drive. Liquor consumers typically suffer a form of anosognosia, meaning they are not aware of their own impairment and thus demonstrate a denial of their unfitness to drive. Where liquore leads to people driving faster and sloppier, the marijuana consumers tended to avoid driving and drove slower than normal.
Another point of the video is that those who consume more cannabis products are less impaired by it than those who infrequently use it.
Like every medicine, there is validity to the warnings about driving or operating heavy equipment. But the problem fades with frequency. and so does the 'buzz'. Binge consumption tends to punish those who consume reckless doses by denying them the 'thrill' they may be seeking.