Weed and Wheels Do not Mix
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The acrimonious debate between the forces of marijuana legalization and those opposed to it spills over even to the area of driving safety. Legalization proponents say pot and driving are fine . Opponents say it is dangerous.
Both sides cite research to validate their positions. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) claims that weed has only a mild effect . Furthermore, NORML states stoners slow down and are more focused. This is the opposite of drunk drivers who are more aggressive .
"NORML downplaying the risks of marijuana and driving is exactly like Big Tobacco saying cigarettes don't cause lung cancer," said Kevin Sabet, director of the University of Florida's Drug Policy Institute . "It is wholly an untrue, profit-driven statement."
Indeed, studies published from 1993 to 2012 indicate that driving and marijuana are incompatible. These studies were conducted in several countries in different parts of the globe.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found 14 studies conducted in Australia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and here in America from 1993 to 2005 that determined the rates of marijuana detected in drivers injured in traffic crashes ranged from 3.3% to 26.9%.
"Acute cannabis consumption is associated with an increased risk of a motor vehicle crash, especially for fatal collisions," concluded a 2012 study published in the British Journal of Medicine . "This information could be used as the basis for campaigns against drug impaired driving."
NORML maintains that evidence of marijuana's culpability in on-road driving accidents is not so convincing. The organization says that although cannabis intoxication may impair "psychomotor skills," the impairment is not long-lasting; to boot, the high has been shown to make drivers slow down and drive in manners that allow them to respond in emergencies.
"This impairment does not appear to play a significant role in on-road traffic accidents," said NORML in a website position paper.
The organization points to a "2002 review of seven separate studies involving 7,934 drivers" that failed to implicate marijuana. The organization's contention is that, "[c]rash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate that drivers with cannabinoids in the blood are significantly more likely than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes."
NORML claims there is a large body of research to substantiate this. The research "consists of driving simulator studies, on-road performance studies, crash culpability studies, and summary reviews of the existing evidence." They say the results are consistent. Marijuana, in the organization's opinion, has a measurable yet but mild effect on psychomotor skills. The substance "does not play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol."
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sides with legalization opponents on this issue.