By Joe Hodas
On Tuesday night, NBC Nightly News aired a segment titled Denver Police Tackle People Driving While High.
While this particular subject is an increasingly important one, NBC News’ segment was one-sided and incomplete, and I felt compelled to respond to Lester Holt’s reporting to highlight the known data that Holt ignored and the efforts the cannabis industry is taking to raise awareness of the issue of driving while impaired.
Let’s start with Holt’s narration about a driver pulled over by Denver Police Sgt. Rich Coisman, who “like many drivers Coisman encounters, mixed alcohol and marijuana.”
In fact, only 17 percent of DUIs in Colorado involve marijuana.
Holt goes on to say, “While the roadside test for marijuana impairment is the same as for alcohol, it takes a blood test to be conclusive.”
But this is an inaccurate, irresponsible representation of the state of testing for impairment due to marijuana. As a Denver Post investigation from last year highlighted, there are many obstacles to performing a conclusive test for impairment-causing THC content in blood, breath or saliva, one of which is the tendency to test positive for marijuana metabolites days to weeks after consumption, which could unfairly impact Colorado’s 89,000 medical marijuana patients and adult-use consumers alike.
Most people in the cannabis industry agree with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) that “there is a critical need to find and establish a more scientifically-based method for determining and measuring marijuana impairment that is reflective of the complexity of cannabis and its effects on different users.”
The NBC segment cited a statistic from a CDOT survey that “nearly 70 percent of Colorado marijuana users admit to driving high.”
A separate survey by CDOT found that “most Coloradans (73 percent) report feeling comfortable driving after having one or two (alcoholic) drinks in a two-hour period.”
So it seems marijuana consumers are no more likely than those who consume alcohol to disregard efforts around education about the risks of driving under the influence of either substance.
The segment highlighted the work of one Colorado dispensary chain to provide this education. And I agree with CDOT on the point that “dispensaries are a trusted source of information among marijuana consumers and should play a key role in educating customers about the laws and dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana.”
The cannabis industry takes this education seriously. Most dispensaries I’ve been to have signage reminding customers that driving impaired is not only illegal but dangerous. There are prominent reminders to customers that it is illegal to open packaging or use marijuana in a vehicle, and illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana.
Industry representatives are part of the Marijuana Education Oversight Committee, which has worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health to create the Good to Know consumer educational campaign.
Dispensaries are collaborating with CDOT, the State of Colorado and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to display educational campaigns like the current “Plan a Ride Before You Take a Hit.”
Additionally, cannabis product packaging specifically states: “The intoxicating effects of this product may be delayed by two or more hours. … Do not drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery while using marijuana.”
This education seems to be working. Contrary to Coisman’s statement in the segment that “We’re definitely seeing more people driving high,” in the first six months of 2017, the number of drivers the Colorado State Patrol considered impaired by marijuana dropped 21 percent compared to the first six months of 2016. For added context, there were significantly fewer marijuana-related automobile fatalities than alcohol-related fatalities in 2016: 8 percent versus 26 percent.
The cannabis industry is committed to reducing the number of accidents and fatalities, and we are already working together with CDOT and the State of Colorado. We need to continue education, not engage in fear-mongering.
Joe Hodas is COO of General Cannabis, the comprehensive national resource for the highest-quality service providers available to the regulated cannabis industry. General Cannabis is a trusted partner to the cultivation, production and retail sides of the cannabis business, with strong operating divisions including security, marketing, operational consulting and products, real estate and financing.
Joe Hodas is the Chief Executive Officer of Gofire, Inc., an innovator of hardware and software solutions that aid in dose delivery, health tracking, and medication management.
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