For as long as there’s been a movement to legalize marijuana, advocates have used alcohol as a fulcrum for legitimacy.
If it’s OK to legally get drunk on alcohol, one of the arguments went, why make a crime out of getting high from marijuana?
Indeed for a region like ours, where vineyards, distilleries and microbreweries are viewed both as economic drivers and quality-of-life amenities, anti-marijuana sentiments seemed a bit hypocritical.
But in a post-legalization era, where we can buy cannabis products as easily as we can buy a six-pack, the shoe is on the other foot. Marijuana users are the ones who have become hypocrites. Too many disregard the danger of driving under the influence of THC.
After fighting to get equal footing with alcohol, marijuana users seem less accepting of the impairment aspect, though 13.5% of drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2018 tested positive for cannabis, according to figures compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Driving drunk, thankfully, has become properly stigmatized.
Obviously, it’s still a problem, but at least drivers seem to have a realistic awareness of the dangers of getting behind the wheel after a drink or two.
The Sentinel’s Alex Zorn cited a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study that found 94% of drivers say driving after drinking is very or extremely dangerous. But only 70% of respondents consider driving within an hour after using marijuana to very or extremely dangerous — though 91% of drivers socially disapprove of driving shortly after using.
After two years of collecting thousands of surveys, CDOT is taking what it learned from marijuana users to drive home the message that it’s not safe to drive while high. CDOT plans to run an ad campaign in September targeted at marijuana users in the state.
The study showed many cannabis users are highly skeptical of the laws, policies and enforcement regarding driving impaired. Respondents expressed that they wanted more research or detection methods and guidelines on dosage-based limits and how long to wait before driving.
In other words, it’s not enough to say “Don’t drive high.” One of the study’s takeaways is that the key to reaching some skeptics is lead with feelings and follow with facts.
Whatever campaign CDOT comes up with, a parallel message is that law enforcement is well prepared to identify people impaired by marijuana — and not just alcohol — in roadside sobriety tests.
As recreational marijuana becomes more ingrained socially, driving after using will hopefully become frowned upon. Cultural forces can be more effective than a campaign.
A statement such as,“You’re not planning to drive after you smoke that bowl are you?” can be more powerful than a public service announcement. We can make our streets safer by showing disdain for those who don’t take driving under the influence seriously.