Kootnekoff: Legalization and road safety: Looking to the recent past

Recreational marijuana will be legal in Canada, as of this Oct. 17. (THE NEWS/files)

—By Susan Kootnekoff

Have I missed it? I haven’t seen much press in British Columbia or on the CBC national news channel about the potential impact of legalization of marijuana on traffic fatalities.

If the best way to predict the future is to look at the past, let’s take a moment and look to the recent past in Colorado and Washington.

In the U.S., the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA), a program of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, has been studying the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado.

One of the many areas it studies is the impact of legalization of marijuana in Colorado on impaired driving rates and traffic fatalities.

In it’s fourth annual report, released in Sept., 2016, the RMHIDTA released some very interesting information.

Not up to reading the full 180 page report? I couldn’t possibly in this brief article provide a full summary of the report. Below is a short summary of at least some of the findings.

Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 48 percent in the three-year average (2013-2015) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, as compared to the three-year average (2010-2012) prior to legalization.

During that same time, all traffic related deaths increased by 11 per cent.

In 2013 itself, when recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths in that state increased 62 percent (from 71 to 115 persons).

By 2015, there had been a doubling of the percentage of marijuana-related traffic deaths involving operators testing positive for marijuana, as compared to 2009.

Since 2013, when recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, there has been a 67 percent increase in operators testing positive for marijuana involved in a fatal traffic accident.

In 2015, still only 49 percent of operators involved in Colorado traffic deaths were tested for drug impairment.

Out of those who were tested, about 1 in 4 tested positive for marijuana.

The Colorado State Patrol DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) Program 2015 data includes:

  • 77 percent (665) of the 862 DUIDs involved marijuana
  • 40 percent (347) of the 862 DUIDs involved marijuana only

To gather this data, RMHIDTA worked with the Colorado department of transportation, coroner offices, and law enforcement agencies involved with fatalities to obtain toxicology reports.

The RMHIDTA also observed that there was a surge in marijuana-related fatal collisions after legalization in Washington state.

In Washington state, drivers with active THC in their blood involved in a fatal driving accident increased by 122.2 per cent from 2010 to 2014.

There was a 400 percent increase of marijuana-related DUIs between 2012 and 2014.

“Marijuana-only DUIs have also been on the rise since 2012. These are DUIs for which marijuana was confirmed to be the only active drug in the driver’s system. From 2012 to 2014 the department [Washington State Traffic Safety Commission] noted a 460 percent increase.”

When we consider the experience South of the border, one would think that roadside testing, and the impact on safety generally, would be the first consideration on the minds of our government leaders. Unfortunately, it seems that perhaps a quick election promise was made, before the full implications on safety, including the costs involved in roadside testing, was fully considered.

I hate to say it, but it seems only a matter of time – when, not if – we will be seeing serious collisions resulting from drug impaired drivers.

Even one collision is too many.

In my next column, I’ll make a few comments about roadside testing and the unit recently approved by the federal government for conducting roadside testing.

If you are concerned about the safety of our roads, write to your MP and MLAs, and call your local police detachments. Let them know you want to see extensive drug testing, immediately after cannabis is legalized.

The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Specialist advice from a qualified legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances If you would like to reach us, we may be reached at 250-764-7710 or info@inspirelaw.ca .

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