TOWSON, MD (Tuesday, February 16, 2021) – AAA, a traffic safety organization with more than 100-year history, will be testifying this afternoon, before the House Judiciary Committee, in opposition to HB 32 – Cannabis – Legalization and Regulation (Inclusion, Restoration and Rehabilitation Act of 2021). The auto club’s opposition stems from the inherent traffic safety risks and because of the challenges law enforcement officers have in determining impairment at the roadside in a way that protects the public and treats drivers fairly.
“While we recognize the complexities of HB 32 and the many public policy impacts of the legislation, AAA opposes the legalization of recreational cannabis due to the inherent traffic safety risks,” said Ragina C. Ali, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Data shows that cannabis-involved traffic fatalities increase after cannabis legalization. After legalization in Washington state, fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used cannabis doubled, according to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (2020). Crash rates and insurance claims also increased in Colorado, Nevada and Oregon after the legalization of recreational cannabis. Data from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice shows the number of fatalities with cannabinoid?only or cannabinoid?in?combination (with other drugs and alcohol) positive drivers increased 153%, from 55 in 2013 to 139 in 2017.
AAA is also concerned about the challenges police officers face in determining impairment at the roadside. “Currently no testing procedures exist to reliably predict driver impairment due to consumption of cannabis,” said Ali. “Unlike with alcohol, there is no scientific correlation between the concentration of active THC’ (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in the blood and a person’s level of impairment or propensity to cause a traffic crash, thus a roadside chemical test for impairment is impossible,” Ali added. Without the ability to determine impairment by cannabis, based on the result of a roadside chemical test similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol, law enforcement must undergo additional, costly, time-consuming training for a subset of officers classified as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs).
There is insufficient scientific data to provide motorists with guidance on the use of the drug in a way that does not impact their ability to drive safely. Cannabis can affect people differently, making it challenging to develop consistent and fair guidelines. Frequent users of cannabis can exhibit persistent levels of the drug long after use, while drug levels can decline more rapidly among occasional users.
While AAA remains opposed to legalization, we recommend the following elements be included in any legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, in the interest of traffic safety and fairness to motorists:
- Implementing a two-step system to test for impairment that requires behavioral and physiological evidence of driver impairment, AND if available, a positive test indicating presence of cannabis in the driver’s system.
- Updating Maryland’s open container law to include a prohibition on the consumption of cannabis while driving and open cannabis products in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.
- Funding an intensive public education campaign, with a focus on dangers of drugged driving prior to legalization, and dedicating a portion of any new tax revenue generated by the sale of cannabis and related products to the Maryland Highway Traffic Safety Office for continuing education and public awareness programs.
- Providing sufficient funding for additional DREs and their training.
As an advocate for the safety of motorists and all roadway users, AAA is deeply concerned by the safety implications of individuals using cannabis and getting behind the wheel. In a AAA poll, conducted in 2017, 72 percent of Maryland drivers indicated they would be somewhat or very concerned about the dangers posed by others driving after using cannabis if it is legalized for recreational use.
“AAA believes it is dangerous to legalize cannabis before we are prepared to manage the potential roadway safety consequences, and provide law enforcement officers with all the training and resources they need to address this issue,” said Ali.