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New Study Shows Cannabis Legalization Doesn’t Spike Drugged Driving

Ed Knight

By Ed Knight

April 27, 2022

Opponents to legalization have often pointed to the risks associated with driving while stoned, but a newly published study punctures that argument. 

Research published in the June issue of the journal Preventive Medicine Reports found that 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.”

The authors said that the “one exception was frequent cannabis users who lived in medical cannabis states,” whose “risk of [driving under the influence of cannabis] did not differ significantly from frequent users living in states without legal cannabis.”

“One potential explanation for lower prevalence of [driving under the influence of cannabis] in legal states is perceived safety of cannabis use, which is associated with [driving under the influence of cannabis] and varies by legalization,” the authors wrote in their analysis.

The drugged driving research report continues, “In legal states, cannabis users may receive more information about the risks of cannabis use from sources like physicians who issue medical cannabis cards or dispensary staff than users living in neither states. Another explanation is differences in labeling requirements. States that have not legalized cannabis cannot regulate the labeling of cannabis products, while many recreational and medical states require warning labels and instructions on products. Some edible cannabis products contain warnings about driving within a few hours of consumption.”

The authors explained another consideration about the data from the study. “Another possibility is that current cannabis users in legal states are less likely to self-report [driving under the influence of cannabis]. However, given that states with legal medical and recreational cannabis have more positive social norms for cannabis use than states without legal cannabis, and research has linked social norms with [driving under the influence of cannabis], this scenario seems unlikely.”

The findings were touted by cannabis advocates.

NORML Weighs in on Drugged Driving Findings

“These findings ought to reassure those who feared that legalization might inadvertently be associated with relaxed attitudes toward driving under the influence,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML. “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.”

In its post trumpeting the study’s findings, NORML also noted that “state-level data has failed to show any uptick in motor vehicle accidents attributable to the enactment of medical cannabis laws, while data assessing the potential impact of adult-use legalization has shown less consistent results.”

The authors said that among frequent cannabis users, they “found that the risk of self-reported [driving under the influence of cannabis] was lower in recreational states, but not in medical states, compared to neither states.”

“One potential explanation is differential exposure to [driving under the influence of cannabis] educational campaigns by legalization,” they wrote.”At the beginning of data collection in August 2016, only Colorado, Washington, and California had [driving under the influence of cannabis]  educational campaigns. Colorado and Washington were recreational states at the time, and California voted to legalize recreational cannabis during our data collection. Variation in the regulation of cannabis product labeling across medical and recreational states may also explain differences. Labeling requirements and content vary by state.”

In their conclusion on drugged driving in legal states, the authors said that 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 [driving under the influence of cannabis] prevention efforts.” 

“Our analysis also suggests that frequent users in states with medical legalization or no legal cannabis may be at particular risk for [driving under the influence of cannabis],” 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 [driving under the influence of cannabis]. Medical states may consider targeting frequent users by disseminating information about [driving under the influence of cannabis] through medical dispensaries. Further research is warranted, particularly given the constantly evolving nature of cannabis legalization and the noted limitations of this analysis.”

Ed Knight

About The Author

Ed Knight

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