April 20th is known to many as 4/20, or “Weed Day”. People around the world are celebrating the unofficial marijuana holiday by gathering for rallies, smoke-outs, policy discussions and thousands of other weed-centric events. The legal US cannabis market is currently valued at over $10 billion; “green stocks” are publicly traded, reporting strong sales since Canada legalized pot and several US states voted to approve recreational and medical marijuana use.
Cannabis has also gone mainstream thanks to big investments and partnerships between marijuana sellers and blue chip consumer companies. Experts are projecting it could grow to $100 billion in the US, and $1 trillion globally in the next five years. although prices have been dropping as competition has increased now that more states are legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use. These include the overall prices for products such as ingestibles, topical creams, vaporizers/vape pens and pre-rolled joints.
The ‘‘Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018″, referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity while removing it from the list of controlled substances. Industrial hemp is not marijuana, although it is a different variety of the same species. The bill listed hemp as a covered commodity under crop insurance and directed the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation board to streamline the process for developing hemp policies, and requires the secretary of agriculture to conduct a study of the hemp-related agricultural pilot programs and other agricultural and academic research on the subject, to determine the economic viability of a domestic hemp market.
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. There still are no laws written specifically to address driving impaired while under the influence of cannabis and its associated products:
- 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.