blood alcohol concentration - BAC, blood alcohol levels - BAL, cannabis, Crashes and Collisions, Drug-Impaired Driving, Drunk Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, DUID, DWAI, FARS, fatalities, Field Sobriety Tests, Legislative Affairs, marajuana, medical marijuana, NHTSA, Road Safety Research, traffic fatalities, Traffic Safety, Victims of DUI

Happy 4/20, Prepare for DUIs

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Today, April  20th (4/20 or 420), is marjuana’s high holiday for the eight states and the District of Columbia that now allow recreational use of marijuana, and 30+ states that  allow its use for medical purposes.  There is even talk from Democrats about introducing a bill in Washington to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances. But today, cannabis is still a controlled illegal substance at the Federal level, it is still illegal to transport cannabis products across state lines, still produces effects on driving that can lead to a DUI or DUID arrest, and it still incredibly difficult to standardize for safety and quality controls. Cannabis is the most phyto-chemically complex plant on the planet. It is an impossible task trying to ensure all plants, even of the same cannabis genotype, have all the same chemical profile.

Some might make the comparison between alcohol prohibition and cannabis, both Federal legislative measures prohibiting the production, importation, transportation and sale of related products on a national level. History has shown that lifting alcohol prohibition has not eliminated the abuse – and resulting consequences – that leads to impaired driving. According to the NHTSA, in 2016 there were 10,497 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentration of .08 g/dL, the minimum legal limit for DUI nationwide for adults over 21. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System,  the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes testing positive for marijuana rose 88 percent from 2013 to 2015. A Denver Post  analysis of data and coroner briefings report the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana had risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time; state law, however, does not require coroners to test deceased drivers specifically for marijuana use in fatal crashes.

Starting with Oregon in 1973, individual states began to liberalize cannabis laws through decriminalization. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis, sparking a trend that spread to over 30 states by 2017. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Have roads in these states become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization in its various forms? The Post’s findings include:

  • Marijuana is figuring into more fatal crashes overall. In 2013, drivers tested positive for the drug in about 10 percent of all fatal crashes. By 2016, it was 20 percent.
  • More drivers are testing positive for marijuana and nothing else. Of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2014 who tested positive for cannabinoids, more than 52 percent had no alcohol in their system. By 2016, it had grown to 69 percent.
  • The average age of drivers in deadly crashes in 2015 who tested positive for marijuana was nearly 35, with a quarter of them over 40.
  • In 2016, of the 115 drivers in fatal wrecks who tested positive for marijuana use, 71 were found to have Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in their blood, indicating use within hours, according to state data. Of those, 63 percent were over 5 nanograms per milliliter, the state’s limit for driving.

Both alcohol and marijuana can affect a driver’s ability to think and solve problems, coordination, reaction time, judgment, memory and mood. While science has figured out just exactly how alcohol impacts the body’s organs, systems and functions, the same cannot be said of cannabis. Results of field sobriety tests, including blood and urine sampling as well as breathalyzers, can tell if a driver’s blood alcohol level is over the legal limit. No test can tell whether a driver is too high to drive because of smoking or inhaling, popping pills, eating or vaporizing cannabis products. Unlike alcohol, the active ingredients that cause the cannabis high can remain detectable in the blood stream for days or weeks; unlike alcohol, the impairment does not wears off in a matter of hours, and no amount of food intake will change the effects. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors and public policy makers concede there’s still too little information about marijuana and how it is detected to understand just how much the drug is affecting traffic fatalities.

blood alcohol concentration - BAC, blood alcohol levels - BAL, cannabis, Drug-Impaired Driving, DUID, Legislative Affairs, marajuana, medical marijuana

Another state where voters might support legalization of marijuana

 

While the cultivation, trafficking, sale, or possession of cannabis products is a crime in Illinois under the state’s Controlled Substances ActIllinois marijuana laws are rather lax. Possession of less than 2.5 grams of cannabis is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Illinois also allows the use of medical marijuana for eligible patients as part of a pilot program slated to run through 2018; marijuana possession, use, cultivation, and sale remain federal crimes.

Marijuana laws are subject to rapid change at present. Although the trend has been toward decriminalization and even full legalization in several states, there are some states looking at significant change in legislative attitudes, such as the case in Illinois.

There is a ballot measure in Cook County — the nation’s second-most-populous county, which has more residents than 27 U.S. states — that sends a strong message to state lawmakers about ending cannabis prohibition. Approved by voters with a greater than two-to-one margin, the ballot question reads:

“Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

 

Politicians are climbing aboard the cannabis-support bandwagon,  supporting both the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana, which is estimated to generate as much as $700 million a year for the state.  Illinois Attorney General Republican nominee Erika Harold suggested officials should begin the process of methodically analyzing and negotiating appropriate safeguards and regulatory frameworks for the legal recreational use of marijuana – the state has already decriminalized medical cannabis. Few are asking voters to consider the ramifications of driving under the influence of marijuana (DUID), especially since the THC in cannabis – the main mind-altering ingredient found in marijuana and the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects – does not have the ability to raise your blood alcohol measurement. This is because THC does not remain in the blood but rather finds its home in the body’s fatty tissues like the brain. While in sufficient quantity, using cannabis products can increase your level of impairment, there is currently no scientific bases to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner blood alcohol concentration determines drunk driving. as used by law enforcement for BAC/BAL.
According to Herb, the website for cannabis news, THC is present in the blood for about 4 to 12 hours post-consumption. If you’re a heavy user, THC might hang out in your bloodstream for up to a few days. Effects, doses, metabolism, body weight, mind state, environment, blood sugar levels,  age, and certain other factors all affect these numbers, and each individual/every situation is unique. Thus, it is a driver’s responsibility to know when to engage in smoking, eating or inhaling cannabis products so that it doesn’t impair their ability to drive safely.
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cannabis, Drug-Impaired Driving, Legislative Affairs, medical marijuana, Recreational marijuana

Nevada’s speedy route from cannabis legalization to sales

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Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin July 1st – And An Ounce Won’t be Cheap!

July 1st is the target date for recreational marijuana to go on sale in Nevada, after votes approved a ballot measure in November to make it legal. This has been the fastest turnaround from the ballot box to retail sales of any of the states that have passed similar legislation. The Nevada Tax Commission approved emergency regulations with stricter labeling and packaging requirements aimed at protecting children by prohibiting edibles being modeled after any brand of product primarily marketed to children or bear likenesses of animals, fruits or cartoon characters. Great news for child advocates, but what about adults? Will there be any warnings about the effects cannabis products have on a driver or the consequences of driving impaired after smoking a joint or two? Driving stoned is still against the law – not even passengers can smoke or consume marijuana in a vehicle under Nevada law. A marijuana DUI could land you a fine of up to $1,000, a suspended license and even jail time.

Edibles like brownies and gummies tend to produce a longer and stronger high than smoked marijuana, and new packaging laws in Nevada will reflect that potency. Every edible will be required to have a label warning consumers that it could take up to two hours to feel the high.

The roll-out of marijuana sales will be greeted with a bumper – a crowded field of players jockeying for their piece of a very lucrative pie. First in line, the Nevada Department of Taxation, imposing a 10% percent tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. In Clark County, about 32% percent of what consumers will pay will be taxes that include the 15% percent excise tax on cultivation, rolled into the retail price. Applications were accepted in May for businesses wanting to grow, produce and sell recreational marijuana for licenses that will allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell cannabis products to adults 21 and older. Distribution licenses are available to liquor wholesalers, medical marijuana companies and operating medical marijuana distribution companies. It will cost businesses $5,000 to apply for a license, plus an additional fee if the company is awarded a license. Additional fees include:

  • $20,000 for retail stores
  • $30,000 for cultivation facilities
  • $10,000 for production facilities
  • $15,000 for testing labs
  • $15,000 for distributors

 

Then there is the cost of the product to the consumer. According to the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,  when pot sales start on July 1st, the price of an ounce of smokable marijuana will be somewhere in the range of $350 to $450. One ounce of dried marijuana flower produces about 40 to 60 cigarettes.

Only currently licensed and operating medical marijuana establishments in good standing with the state were eligible to apply for retail, production, cultivation and testing licenses. Distribution licenses are available to liquor wholesalers, medical marijuana companies and operating medical marijuana distribution companies. After 18 months, distribution of the product could be open to other distributors.

Here are a few more things to know about launch of recreational marijuana sales in Nevada, courtesy of the Las Vegas Review Journal:

  • Dispensaries must be closed daily from 3 to 6 a.m.
  • Most cities in Nevada will begin sales July 1st. Henderson currently has imposed a 6-month moratorium on recreational marijuana licenses
  • The only difference between medical and recreational marijuana in Nevada will be the price at the sales counter.
  • Medical marijuana prices currently charged in Las Vegas for ⅛ ounce range from about $30 to $60. Several stores estimate recreational costs will be up to $80 for ⅛ ounce, and over $400 for an ounce of higher grade plant.
  • Both tourists and local residents can carry up to an ounce of marijuana and ⅛ ounce of concentrate – the same amount a person is legally able to buy beginning July 1st. However, smoking or consuming marijuana in public, on sidewalks or streets is not permitted, carrying a $600 fine. Marijuana use is banned on all gaming properties in the state. Tourists can’t smoke marijuana in hotel rooms or anywhere on resorts’ grounds.
  • The marijuana industry is entirely cash-based, and credit cards are not accepted.
  • Smoking marijuana will be allowed only in private residences.
  • Complaints about public consumption should be reported to 311 because it is considered a nonviolent crime. Officers will continue to give calls in which there is imminent danger a higher priority.
  • Stores can sell the inventory they have in-stock, but without a licensed distributor, no dispensary will be able to replenish its supply. Dispensary owners fear that they could run out of recreational products in weeks or even days since there is a distribution battle currently in play.

 

cannabis, Drug-Impaired Driving, Legislative Affairs

Greenbacks – dollars from marijuana cultivation to the rescue of dying towns

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The Greenback Movement has resurfaced in California, giving new meaning to currencies. As the largest grower and consumer of marijuana in the country, California is in the midst of a booming business that has brought prosperity and needed revenue to dying towns. Take Adelanto, for example, brought back from the verge of bankruptcy by tax revenues from the marijuana industry. Commenting on marijuana grow operations discovered in his city, Mayor Richard Kerr stated that they were dealing with medical marijuana cultivation on a legal basis and would not tolerate illegal operations in the city.  And legal they made it, passing City Ordinance 545 that sanctions large-scale commercial cannabis cultivation.  By jumping on the bandwagon of transforming the most populous state in the US and one of the world’s largest economies into a new epicenter for cannabis, Kerr and other city officials passing ordinances that legalize the cultivation of cannabis hope to fatten their coffers by bringing in this new-found base for tax revenue. According to a local newspaper story, cultivators could churn out roughly 50,000 pounds of marijuana up to six times a year at cultivation centers like the ones envisioned for Adelanto.

Known as the jail town of the high desert, Adelanto has four prisons within the city limits that house some 3,340 county, state and federal inmates, with another prison soon to be built.  Adelanto’s take each year from prison-related revenue amounts to $160,000. City planners estimate that the larger facilities in this nascent marijuana industry should bring in taxes of about $75,000 every three months, with total tax revenue reaching $12 million by the end of the year.

So far, 43 cultivation permits have been approved, and land prices have sky-rocketed, which will bring in additional revenue in the form of property taxes. Investors and cultivators have been told they need not fear raids since they would be complying with city and state laws. But what about federal laws?  Despite states passing laws regarding the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, it is still illegal to transport cannabis across state lines, and it is still a crime to drive under the influence of marijuana. The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of cannabis. These laws are generally applied against persons who possess, cultivate, or distribute large quantities of cannabis, but federal agencies still have the prerogative to seize property on which pot is grown, levy fines and even send people to prison.

The CSA classifies every drug, and under federal law, cannabis is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, marijuana) is a CSA Schedule 1 drug with a high potential for abuse (i.e. is highly addictive) and with no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Additionally, there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision let alone individual use. Scary thoughts for those of use having to share the road with drugged drivers.

 

Driverless Vehicles, Legislative Affairs

Treating driverless vehicles just like any other – a recipe for disaster?

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We have been advocates of sharing the road with everyone, and now Colorado is getting ready to ask their drivers to share the road with cars that drive themselves, too.  The future of driverless cars is here today – have you seen the commercials for cars that can park themselves? In March, the Colorado State Senate passed a bill that would change state law to allow the use of an “automated driving system” — one that doesn’t need human control or supervision. Senate Bill 213 states “the vehicle’s system must be capable of complying with every state and federal law that is applicable to the vehicle and its use. Problem is, there are currently no federal laws or regulations governing driverless vehicles that companies seeking to test or use such cars or trucks could comply with in order to follow the proposed law in Colorado, although the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has put out guidelines for states to use in setting policy.

There are currently more than 30 companies working on autonomous vehicle technologies, dedicating thousands of miles and thousands of hours in testing their driverless vehicles. But what about the average drivers in the U.S. – will the technology be widely accepted? Not according to a study at the University of Michigan built on a series of eight reports addressing public opinion, human factors, and safety-related issues concerning self-driving vehicles. The study, sponsored by UM’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), found that nearly 46% percent of those surveyed want no vehicle automation at all, while 39% percent favor partial automation. Only about 15% percent want fully driverless vehicles. Many cited the lack of control as a problematic issue.

What about trucks? In a similar report, researchers found that nearly 95 percent of U.S. motorists responding to their survey had some level of concern sharing the roads with autonomous trucks and trailers. According to the Teamsters, the labor union known as the champion of freight drivers, letting driverless vehicles, especially trucks, hit the highways is a recipe for disaster.

The last thing those traveling U.S. thoroughfares need are out-of-control trucks that jeopardize the lives of others.

Roadways are already a hazard for motorists. “As it stands, the nation’s roadways can be a dangerous place for motorists,” stated in a Teamster article on a poll showing worries about a driverless future on our highways and byways. While technology progresses, there must be a balance between the application of the next big development in our everyday lives and sound public policy that ensures the public good.

Drug-Impaired Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, Legislative Affairs

New report on drugged-impaired driving

 

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Download the Report “Drug Impaired Driving:  A Guide for States

A report released in April, 2017 from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in response to legislatures, law enforcement, and highway safety offices being urged to about drug-impaired driving. It includes information obtained by GHSA from a survey of state highway safety offices. According to the report, drug-impaired driving is more complex than alcohol-impaired driving for many reasons:

 

  • Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers. Some drugs that can impair driving are illegal to use, some are legal to use under certain conditions, and some are freely available over-the-counter.
  • For many drugs, the relation between a drug’s presence in the body, its effect on driving, and its effects on crash risk are complex, not understood well, and vary from driver to driver. Additionally, some drugs – especially cannabis – attach to the fatty tissues of the body and therefore cannot be measured as blood concentration levels as is done with alcohol.
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states. Additionally, laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states.
  • It is more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment at the roadside than alcohol impairment. There are no BAC charts or understanding the stages for becoming impaired while using some drugs such as cannabis as there are for alcohol.
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states. While laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states, it is still more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for DUID than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI/DWI/OWI).

Drug-impaired driving is an increasingly critical issue for states and state highway safety offices. As of April 2017, marijuana may be used for medical purposes in 29 states and the District of Columbia, although these states are still struggling with legislating its use, cultivation, and sale. While these states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, it is still a federal crime and cannot be transported across state lines. Furthermore, in every state it is still a crime to drive impaired under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including marijuana. In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) reported that drugs were present in 43% of the fatally-injured drivers with a known test result, more frequently than alcohol was present. NHTSA’s 2013–2014 roadside survey found drugs in 22% of all drivers both on weekend nights and on weekday days. In particular, marijuana use was cited as increasing.

Congress identified drug-impaired driving as a priority in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015. This multi-year highway bill directed NHTSA to develop education campaigns to increase public awareness about the dangers associated with drugged driving. The Act also required the Department of Transportation to study the relationship between marijuana use and driving impairment and to identify effective methods to detect marijuana-impaired drivers.

Legislatures, law enforcement, and highway safety offices in many states are urged to “do something” about drug-impaired driving, but what to do is far from clear. While the report does not attempt to be a complete review of the extensive information available on drugs and driving, it does provide references to research and position papers, especially papers that summarize the research on drugs and driving that have appeared in the last 20 years.

Watch the CNN video, “Your Brain on Weed” for an insight on marijuana and TCH, the chemical that gets you high.