Marijuana legalization continues to make strides. If authorities wish to put reasonable restraints on use, they must put forward factual information, call for more research, and stop dragging their feet on enacting the laws their citizens approve through ballot proposals.
Recreational marijuana legalization has reached the Midwest in November when a voter-initiated ballot proposal passed in Michigan. That made Michigan the 10th US state—plus the District of Columbia—to make recreational (as opposed to medical) use of marijuana legal. It has already gone partially into effect.
The politicians in the Michigan state legislature don’t like the law. Actually, they don’t like the idea of citizens going around them to pass any laws, and so they have given themselves the ability to pre-emptively pass ballot proposals before the election, then amend them (to make them much weaker or delay their going into effect) after the election. Michigan’s legislature is doing that right now with a couple of other ballot proposals.
The Michigan legislature didn’t do this with the marijuana legalization proposal, however, apparently fearing that a vote for legalization (even if only so they could gut it later) might get them tarred as a pothead and cost them votes. They are trying to amend it anyway but now need of the legislature to send it to the governor instead of , so chances are slim.
That recreational marijuana passed may be a reaction to how the legislature failed to fulfill the earlier medical marijuana ballot proposal in a timely manner. After 10 years, they only started the licensing process for medical marijuana dispensaries in late 2017. The people may have just had enough.
One of the legislators’ professed concerns is the problem of how to judge whether or not a driver is under the influence of marijuana. The professed fear is that people will smoke marijuana, then decide to go for a joyride where their marijuana-impaired senses will cause reckless behavior and cause many more accidents and deaths.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that calls for science- and compassion-based drug policies, the risks of driving under the influence of marijuana are of less concern than the continued risks of driving under the influence of alcohol. While there is some risk—and the DPA states in bold letters that “It is never a good idea to get behind the wheel when intoxicated, even if just from marijuana alone”—that “in driving studies, marijuana produces little or no car-handling impairment”.
This agrees with the results of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Marijuana-Impaired Driving: A Report to Congress in July 2017, which found “There was no increased risk of crash involvement found over alcohol or drug-free drivers.”
Driving While Stoned: Issues and Policy Options, a study in De Gruyter’s Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, similarly concluded that “The maximum risk for cannabis intoxication alone, unmixed with alcohol or other drugs, appears to be more comparable to risks such as talking on a hands-free cellphone”.
The reason for this is that when under the influence of marijuana, drivers underestimate their ability to drive safely and so overcompensate, driving more slowly and cautiously. They don’t tailgate or try to pass other drivers. According to research supported by the Veterans Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “low concentrations of THC do not increase the rate of accidents, and may even decrease them”.
Most of these reports do not come from marijuana’s pro-legalization proponents but from honest analysis of the relevant evidence. The NHTSA and NIDA certainly don’t want drug use or traffic accidents to increase.
Reports of increased “marijuana-related” automobile accidents and deaths are based on the drivers having marijuana in their blood although alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs also are found in the vast majority of cases.
There are concerns about how marijuana may affect young people’s developing brains, especially emotionally, but DPA says “several recent reports have found that in the majority of states that have approved medical marijuana, use among teenagers has actually decreased” due to a couple of reasons:
- The “forbidden fruit” effect. Since it is no longer as illegal, there is less desire to use it.
- Less access. With legal dispensaries’ lower prices, there is less market and incentive for illegal marijuana, but the dispensaries rigidly obey 21 and older regulations for fear of losing their licenses.
Marijuana dependence can be a problem—treatment is available when needed, as is drug and alcohol rehab—but it is indisputable that marijuana is not as dangerous or addictive as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs.
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