As Illinois reaches a step closer to legalization of cannabis, the police are dreading the potential impact of more stoned drivers on the road leading to more accidents.
Monticello Police Chief John Carter said a juvenile had crashed in a house a year ago while vaping cannabis oil. Carter predicts increased number of accidents due to more cannabis-impaired drivers.
“I would rather not see it” said Carter.
Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler said his officers witness drivers “almost daily” who either have marijuana or smoking devices in their car which concerns the police department as cannabis can drastically impact a driver’s ability to drive.
“I’m not looking forward to having this happening” said Metzler.
People with certain conditions had been legally buying and consuming prescribed cannabis in Illinois after the issue of the first licensed dispensaries opened in 2015. However, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, nearly 58,000 medical cannabis applications had been approved for qualifying patients.
Marijuana legalization has led to an increased demand of cannabis which is poised to grow beyond what the state’s licensed cultivators can supply, according to a recent study commissioned by two Chicago Democrats, state Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy.
The existing cannabis industry can produce and cater to only 35 percent to 54 percent of the adult-use demand and Illinois could potentially reap $440,000 to $670,000 in annual revenue by taxing cannabis sales – excluding excise taxes on cannabis cultivators, according to a recent study by the consulting firm of Freedman and Koski.
The American millennial generation constitutes to the largest supporting group with over 74 percent in favour of cannabis legalization. One way or another, almost 6 out of every 10 American citizens are inclined towards cannabis legalization, according to a Pew Research survey in 2018.
Illinois has a defined set of rules for patients who use cannabis legally for medicinal purposes which prohibits them from driving if they drive impaired or unsafely. For those who fail in chemical testing or refuse to it while under the influence of any drug (including marijuana) have a severe penalty – automatic driver’s license suspension.
According to the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, drug impaired drivers fail chemical tests if they consume 5 nanograms or more of THC (tetrahydro cannabinoid), the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, per millilitre of blood, 10 nanograms or more of THC in another body substance, or any trace of a drug other than cannabis, illegal substance or intoxicating compound.
“We don’t like the idea of having people on the road who may be impaired,” agency spokesman Dave Druker said.
Cannabis Legalization Spikes Up Accidental Rate
Illinois can analyse how cannabis legalization has impacted road safety by observing stats of other states where marijuana is legalized.
Colorado and Washington were the first two states to approve legalization in 2012 with retail beginning from 2014. The third state was Oregon which started its own retail in 2015. The Highway Loss Data Institute dived in the stats reported after the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes in terms of collision claim frequency. They concluded in last year’s report that legalization was linked with 6 percent increase in collision claim as compared to nearby controlled states.
According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration report last year, in the first three years after recreational cannabis sales were legal in Colorado, fatal crashes involving drivers who were THC-intoxicated also increased — from 31 in 2014 to 77 in 2016.
One in five cannabis users in Colorado also admit to driving after using cannabis, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“People may think they’re safer drivers while stoned since they drive more slowly,” the agencywarns on a website about cannabis rules and effects. “However, research shows that driving while high may increase your risk of a crash.”
The agency concludes that marijuana inhalation or consumption of edible products can intoxicate the body due to the high levels of THC present in the substance. In addition to the relaxed “high” state, cannabis renders slower reactions, hand/eye coordination, distorted perceptions of time and distance, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia are a bunch of other potential harmful effects of cannabis which could impair drivers and lead to increased crashes.