Tag Archives: Stoned Driving

Legal Marijuana Imperils Traffic Safety, Adds Mental Health Burden

By Dean Whitlock, a freelance writer from Thetford, Vermont, writes about safety as it relates to marijuana.  The article appeared in Vermont Digger on May 2, 2017.

The discussions of H.170, which would legalize possession and home-growing of small quantities of marijuana, have focused a lot on the danger to teenagers, which is appropriate since adolescents are in a stage of neural development that makes them much more likely to become addicted, develop mental health conditions, and suffer decreases in cognitive processing and memory retention. The problem with this focus is that people over 21, particularly up to the age of 25 or 26, are still susceptible to all of these effects, just at a lower level of risk.

That point aside, the area where every age runs the same risk is on the highway. Again, teens and young adults are more at risk because they tend to take more risks in the first place. They are also less experienced with driving and with the use of alcohol and drugs. But adults do make the same stupid mistake of driving under the influence.

According to the best data we have available, drinking alcohol before driving increases the risk of accident five-fold at the still-legal .08 blood level. Driving under the influence of marijuana doubles your risk. That being the case, we would expect to find considerably more people dying on the roads because of alcohol then because of marijuana. The data on traffic accident fatalities that we have from the Vermont Department of Safety tell a somewhat different story:

This data is based on blood tests that measure active THC, so we can be reasonably sure that the drivers had used marijuana recently enough to still be DUI.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Imperils Safety

Note the small difference between the number of deaths due to alcohol and the number due to marijuana. The most likely reason for this is that many marijuana users think it’s OK to drive after using. For teenagers, we have clear evidence for that from our Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Here’s the 2015 data:

Reports from both Colorado and Washington indicate that the same must be happening there. While accidents and fatalities involving drunk drivers went down in recent years, the numbers involving marijuana went up.

Why is this happening? Because we are not teaching people – young or old – that marijuana impairs your ability to drive. At a well-attended forum on marijuana effects held in Burlington last month, one attendee stood up and insisted that marijuana helps people drive more carefully, and this message pervades the popular websites that cater to people interested in learning more about marijuana from sources “untainted” by officials like police officers and scientists.

It’s important to note that the traffic fatality data shown above only includes deaths in accidents. It does not include the five Harwood teenagers killed on I-89 last October. The driver of the car that hit theirs, Steve Bourgoin (36, hardly a teen), has been charged with second-degree murder, so their deaths are not considered to be due to a traffic accident.

Addiction is Not a Crime

Addiction is not a crime, it is a mental health issue, and the behavior of users who suffer acute or chronic psychotic episodes goes far beyond the usual definition of addiction.

When Bourgoin’s blood toxicology report was completed, authorities withheld the contents pending trial; however, Vermont investigative reporter Mike Donoghue, writing for Vermont News First, quoted several sources in saying that there was active THC in Bourgoin’s blood at the time of the accident. Since then, Vermont Rep. Ben Joseph, D-Grand Isle-Chittenden, a retired judge, has reported being told the same thing by contacts of his in the state legal apparatus.

As reported on VTDigger, Bourgoin told friends that he suffered from anxiety and PTSD due to childhood trauma, and his former girlfriend told detectives that he self-treated with marijuana for “mood spells.” Court documents quote her saying, “It was always very evident when he was out [of marijuana], as he would be more angry and violent during those times.”

Anger is one of marijuana’s withdrawal symptoms, and it is a more addictive drug than most people think. A review of several studies of treatment methods for marijuana addiction found that one-year abstinence rates for adults, even under the most effective treatments, ranged only from 19 to 29 percent.

In a 20-year study involving more than 2000 U.S. war veterans being treated for PTSD, the vets who used medical marijuana along with the standard therapy reported more violent behaviors and worse outcomes after treatment than vets who didn’t use marijuana. The heaviest users showed the strongest effects. Another study found that marijuana use resulted in increased suicidal ideation among marijuana users.

Marijuana and Mental Health Problems

There are other correlations between marijuana and serious mental health problems. Since 2002, a series of studies in Europe have reported that individuals who use cannabis have a greater risk of developing psychotic symptoms. Not only does marijuana bring on symptoms earlier and make them worse, it is a causative factor.

A Finnish study published this past November compared sets of twins where one used marijuana heavily and the other did not. Heavy use increased the risk of developing psychosis by a factor of 3.5. Again, the data indicated that, in many cases, marijuana abuse caused the psychosis, not the other way around. The newly released report on marijuana from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences agrees with these findings.

Addiction is not a crime, it is a mental health issue, and the behavior of users who suffer acute or chronic psychotic episodes goes far beyond the usual definition of addiction. These sufferers needs effective treatment far more than jail time. And these new research findings, combined with Vermont’s recent traffic fatality data, highlight the fact that marijuana is not harmless. Legalizing recreational marijuana in Vermont would not be a simple matter.

Vermont has already decriminalized marijuana use. What we haven’t done is provide a mental health system that can deal with the thousands of cases of addiction, psychosis, and other mental illnesses that we already have in our state, nor have we done nearly enough to educate Vermonters about marijuana’s harms, in order to prevent tragedies from happening.

Legalizing marijuana – whether like alcohol or tobacco – will only make our mental health burden worse, while it makes our highways far less safe.

A former supporter of legalization, Whitlock is now opposed. He is a member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT)

National Safety Report Shows Fear of Stoned Drivers

A National Safety Report released this month shows that 76% percent of those surveyed are concerned about traffic safety under the legalization of marijuana.

Ironically, the same survey showed that 13 percent of drivers actually have driven under the influence of marijuana during the last month.    Of the 2,000 plus participants, 14% were between comprised drivers ages 30-34, the largest group in the survey.

Here’s a report of the National Safety Council’s Survey.  

On CBS Evening News, Deborah Hersman of the National Safety Council called out people driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, She also mentioned states legalizing substances without adequate testing.   Watch the video.

Traffic fatalities have been increasing in the last two years, to an estimated 40,000 deaths last year.   The previous year a rise in deaths was led by increases in the Northwestern states.  Washington, which commercialized marijuana in 2014, had the highest rate of traffic fatalities involving drivers under the influence.  The rate more than doubled in 2014.

Hersman mentioned that drivers ages 19-24 seem to be involved in the most risky driving behaviors.   We find that many of the crashes caused by stoned drivers involve those ages 17 – 20, below the legal age for marijuana in the states that have legalized.    When teens drive stoned, they often have friends with them, leading to multiple deaths at once.

We have published numerous articles on stoned driving.  

Articles show how bicyclists and pedestrians are in danger.   It is not uncommon for those who cause accidents to be both stoned and drunk simultaneously.

Driving High Slammed in AAA Report

marijuana-driving
Driving high may change your life, but not in a good way.

Stoners think driving high is safer than driving straight (wrong) and better than driving drunk (not hardly). The jokes about driving painfully slow or stopping at a green light always get big laughs at the comedy club. But, stoned driving is no laughing matter, and like drunk driving, it kills.

The American Automobile Association recently issued a damning report about the real consequences of legalization. One of the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012, Washington state has seen traffic fatalities caused by stoned drivers double from 2013 to 2014.

See this CBS Evening News Video

Here is the press release issued by AAA, Fatal Road Crashes Involving Marijuana Double After State Legalizes Drug.

Colorado is another state where traffic fatalities have increased as a result of legalization. In this video, we see how legalization activists are misusing the statistics and misleading the public.

Watch Colorado Traffic Fatalities Video

A California law firm warns that even medical marijuana users who drive impaired are breaking the law. Yet, these same attorneys seem to assuage the guilt of marijuana users by saying it doesn’t impair driving (they are looking to defend stoned drivers, so naturally they try to appear pro-pot).

PopPot.org has written stories inspired by news headlines of pedestrians, motorists and bikers and bicyclists crashed into by drivers under the influence of this brain changing drug.  Marijuana: Pedestrians and Cyclists Not Safe.

See more PopPot.org articles on marijuana and driving here.

See also DUID Victim Voices, an advocacy group that works for tougher drugging and driving laws.

marijuana-traffic-fatalities
Marijuana traffic fatalities can be prevented. Don’t light up.

Our next article will cover some of the marijuana traffic deaths over the last few months.

Bicycling Can’t be Safe with Stoned Drivers on the Road

The Richard Tom Foundation honors a bicyclist who was killed by a stoned driver on April 26, 2015, in a double fatal crash.   A homepage for the foundation says “supporting the safety and adventure of cycling for all.”   The driver had 36 nanograms of THC in his system, but it’s hard to get across how dangerous stoned driving is while marijuana proponents advocate for legalization.  (The crash was in Vermont, where legislators decided against legalizing pot this year.)

The number of  bicyclists hit and killed by stoned drivers, or critically injured, is growing.  Of course it happens most frequently where marijuana is legalized or where there is medical marijuana.  Congressman Earl Blumenauer is a big advocate for bicycling, a healthy activity at odds with the marijuana businesses he supports.

Last December, a stoned driver hit and killed Martin Greenough in Portland, Oregon.  The man’s family is now suing Portland and the state of Oregon.

Blumenauer4
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Portland, is a great supporter of bicycling. However, advocating for marijuana puts  bicyclists in grave danger.

There were at least two fatal bicycling accidents in the Portland area involving impaired drivers this spring.  Articles mention that the drivers were under influence but don’t reveal what substances caused the impairment.   Stoned drivers are more common in the day while drunk drivers are usually out in the dark.

Kalamazoo, Michigan, June 7

The driver who killed five bicyclists near near Kalamazoo, Michigan on June 6, was high on drugs, legal drugs according to the prosecutors.  It may have been “medical” marijuana which is legal in Michigan.   Four more bicyclists were injured.   MADD warns that “drugged” driving will overtake drunk driving as a cause of accidents by 2020.  Marijuana is the most common drug found with drugged drivers.

Boulder County, Colorado, May 20

In Longmont, CO, a 20-year old driver under the influence of pot killed an 8-year-old girl riding her bike on May 20. She was coming back from school, accompanied by stepdad.

peyton.knowlton.gofundme
The driver who killed Peyton Knowlton, 8, was high on marijuana.   She was riding her bike.

Boulder, Colorado, May 7

Teen Accused Of Being Stoned In Crash That Killed Boulder Couple

Stacy Reynolds and Joe Ramos were much beloved in the community and mourned after their death.  A stoned 17-year-old without a criminal record was driving home from smoking pot with friends.

Morris, Illinois, June 22

The a baggie thrown out to the car that killed bicyclists Janice and Mark Wendling tested positive for marijuana.  The 17-year-old driver said he had used marijuana 2 days earlier.    The driver was a former student of math teacher Janice Wendling.

Salt Lake City, Utah

A driver hit bicyclist while under influence of marijuana, causing critical injuries.

Berkeley, California, February 17

In Berkeley, California, a terrible crash happened when a driver had just come from a medical marijuana dispensary.  The woman was dragged and badly injured but she survived.   It should be mentioned that Berkeley gives out marijuana to homeless residents, a program which makes it more difficult for them to get back on their feet.

Bike lane opens in Berkeley by near-fatal crash site; charges filed against driver, who police say was high

California’s Proposition 64 is called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.  Anyone who believes that legalizing marijuana will keep it out of the hands of teenagers is nuts.   At least three of these fatal crashes were caused by 17-year-old drivers.  Sanctioning adult use of the substance means the children will use it more often and think it’s harmless.