This week, the leadership of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced the INVEST in America Act, a bill focusing on the completion of many infrastructure projects. A provision of this bill would mandate states that have “legalized” marijuana to raise awareness around the dangers of operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and take steps to curb such dangerous behavior.
This comes on the heels of recent reports finding fatal car crashes involving drivers under the influence of marijuana doubled in Washington State and Colorado following state-level legalization. Such fatalities now comprise around 18% of all traffic fatalities in both states.
“After many meetings with lawmakers on this subject, we are pleased to see this provision attached to such an important piece of legislation,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former three-time White House drug policy advisor. “Drugged driving is an extremely serious consequence of marijuana commercialization and states must begin conscious efforts to combat its proliferation.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 million U.S. residents reported driving under the influence of marijuana in 2018. This represents 4.7% of the driving population. A survey of Michigan marijuana users found that 51% admitted to driving while “a little high,” and one in five of those surveyed admitted to driving while very high.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse holds that marijuana use impairs driving in a number of ways: by slowing reaction time, decreasing coordination, and impairing judgment of time and distance. Polysubstance use—using marijuana along with alcohol or another drug—compounds the risk of a vehicle crash more than the drugs being used alone.
According to data out of Colorado, traffic fatalities increased by over 31% in the state since 2013. The rise in statewide traffic fatalities has coincided with a rise in instances of traffic fatalities where the driver tested positive for marijuana (active THC in the bloodstream). The number of traffic fatalities involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana in Colorado rose from 55 deaths in 2013 to 115 deaths in 2018. In 2018, 18.2% of all traffic fatalities in Colorado involved a driver who tested positive for marijuana
“The reduced perception of risk and the prevalence of marijuana-impaired drivers behind the wheel bear consequences for road safety and raise questions for legislators and law enforcement going forward,” continued Dr. Sabet. “We look forward to helping promote this provision, and any other piece of legislation that addresses the reality of marijuana commercialization’s harms, with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.”