Vermont has the highest rates of marijuana use in the U.S., in all age groups. That goes along with some very disturbing statistics: In the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16% of Vermont’s high school students reported having driven while under the influence of marijuana, while 22% reported riding with a driver who was under the influence. Only 8% reported driving under the influence of alcohol.
Our students have bought into the myth that marijuana is harmless. Unfortunately, that’s far from true. Recent studies have shown that marijuana impairs all of the faculties involved in driving, doubling the chance of an accident. The more you use, the worse the impairment, and the effects last for at least three hours after you stop smoking – much longer if you ingest it
Combining marijuana with even small amounts of alcohol significantly increases the impairment, and despite claims by legalization advocates, there is absolutely no data to show that marijuana users are giving up alcohol. After the state of Colorado legalized medical marijuana, with no change in the proportion of drivers in fatal crashes who were alcohol impaired, there was a significant increase in the proportion who tested positive for marijuana.
Testing drivers for marijuana influence is difficult. There is no breath test, and the number of officers trained to spot impairment by behavior cues is small. Officers must have a reasonable suspicion in order to justify taking a driver to the station for an expensive blood test, and the results take hours to get. Our police don’t have the resources.
If marijuana is legalized, more people young and old will use it, and more people will drive under the influence. We need a method to test for marijuana impairment, but more important, we need to educate Vermont’s students and adults about marijuana and driving. And we need both before we even think about legalizing marijuana.
Debby Haskins, MS, LADC
Executive Director of SAM-VT