Brace yourselves. This is shocking news. Did you know that when drivers are high, it could pose a problem on our highways?
I know. Shocking. Who could have possibly seen this one coming?
Not long ago I attended a debate among Republicans in Ellis County to hear candidate TJ Fabby say he supported the right for people to smoke marijuana in the privacy in their own homes. While there was a slight murmur in the crowd, I had to think about this one. While I do believe people should be able to have personal freedoms in their own homes so long as they bring no harm to others, the problem with legalizing marijuana usage, if only in the safety of their own home, is the high person then decides to go for a car ride when the munchies kick in.
I know this because I teach at a community college and am constantly having conversations with my students who see absolutely no harm in getting high. They believe it to be safer than getting drunk, argue for its medicinal benefits and deny possibly brain damage from long term use even though, honestly, the dumbest people I have ever met in my life are typically stoners.
I point out to my young charges that they are still too “new” at the marijuana game to understand this but find a lifelong stoner and I’ll show you someone who is way impressed by the awesomeness of a paperclip and would totally love to figure out its design but just don’t have the energy so they just hold it up to the light instead and ponder … for hours. But I will pass on that because this is not a laughing matter that involves stupefied brains. Instead, people are getting killed over what is being billed as a harmless drug.
Fatal accidents have tripled in the United States. Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, found that while one of nine drivers in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana, we face a much bigger problem. “If this trend continues, in five or six years non-alcohol drugs will overtake alcohol to become the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving.” Drawing from statistics on more than 23,500 drivers from six states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia) between 1999 and 2010, researchers found that the number of alcohol related fatalities remained the same while drug related deaths jumped from 16 percent in 1999 to 28 percent in 2010.
Since Washington and Colorado legalized the drug, both the Colorado and Washington Departments of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Governors Highway Safety Association, fire and police departments have been speaking out against the legalization of marijuana and their growing concerns for the safety of U.S. citizens.
A quick search on the Internet turned up more than 80 law firms now representing victims of “high” or “stoned” drivers, a relatively new legal niche and one that is only going to grow from demand. While some studies have shown that the “high” driver will actually drive more slowly than a drunk driver, thus making the “high” driver safer, there are several issues the pro-legalization groups are not recognizing.
Problem one is that unlike blood-alcohol testing, it is hard to estimate the amount of THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol (psychoactive compound of marijuana), in the bloodstream. In other words, it is difficult to legally determine how stoned a driver is. Problem two is without any legal guideline, how does a legal pot smoker self-regulate what is safe and what is not to drive? But the third and much bigger issue is cultural. Because today’s youth do not believe this is a harmful drug, there is little restraint.
No one knows this better than Cordelia Cordova, a Colorado resident who works the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant. Cordova told NBC News that she sees people rolling joints in their cars and will even blow smoke in her face “and smile.” “Nobody hides it anymore when driving,” Cordova said. “They think it’s a joke because it’s legal. Nobody will take this seriously until somebody loses another loved one.”
Cordova lost two family members to a man who later admitted to driving while high. While Howard Myers’ children survived a car crash in which the other driver was high, all three (grown) children are undergoing physical therapy, including a son who had a leg partially amputated. “The attitude here is it’s safe,” Myers said. “So more people are driving under the influence.”
Dr. Li concurs, telling NBC News, “The increased availability of marijuana and increased acceptance of marijuana use” have resulted in a higher rate of cannabinol found in dead drivers while leaving a trail of victims along the highway. Clearly, until we can properly educate people about the effects of marijuana, we mere mortals are not ready for its legalization.
Now residing in “the nicest city in Texas,” Alexandra Allred is the author of numerous books, including White Trash, Damaged Goods and the Allie Lindell series. Visit her website, www.alexandratheauthor, or Twitter @alexandraallred but always check out her column the WDL as she ponders all things Waxahachie and beyond its borders.