Pot Prohibitionists Have Set Their Sights on Motorists' Rights
Concessions will have to be made. Before enough timid politicians can be swayed to support comprehensive cannabis reform on the federal level, concessions will have to be made. It seems ridiculous, considering that at last count 2/3rds of Americans polled in favor of nationwide legalization, but it is safe to assume that some of the aspects that we advocates consider unnegotiable foundational planks will be challenged by those who do not understand the very plant that they are legislating.
We have highly influential friends, like Veterans Cannabis Coalition and others, fighting day in and day out often face to face with these undereducated lawmakers, and the proposed Cannabis Bill of Rights drafted earlier this year would protect many of those sacred concepts. But the reality is that in Washington D.C. there is never a give without some take and so it is all but certain that some painful concessions will be made.
One topic that is not covered in the Cannabis Bill of Rights , but that we have covered in the past, continues to rear its head and it appears that one of the final stands of cannabis prohibition will involve the fight over motorists’ rights.
We are already seeing it play out in two of the most cannabis-friendly states in the country – California and Colorado – as the rest of the nation looks on to see how the Great Ganja Experiment unfolds. Despite the fact that an average of 28 people die every day from drunk driving in America, and the fact that anywhere from 30-50% of all auto fatalities involve booze, and the fact that we have a national opioid epidemic, officials in both states are embracing a zombie-like push to punish potheads on the road in any way possible.
Colorado, having the longest track record with recreational cannabis legalization, is often used to set the statistical bar, and in the five years that have ensued since they enacted their new weed law, the results have been somewhat muddled. Most studies that show any rise in “marijuana related” traffic fatalities align with the general rise of cannabis use in the state as the plant becomes more popular. This should be expected, so long as there are any traffic accidents at all. It has more to do with the law of averages than any pot laws. One thing that is clear, however, is that the introduction of legal rec weed into the Colorado society has certainly not created the doom on the roadways that the prohibitionists predicted.
Colorado just surpassed $1 Billion dollars in cannabis tax revenue - the state’s cut of nearly $7 Billion in total retail sales since 2014. This was a landmark moment for legal weed and for the state of Colorado and was followed up by an announcement from Governor Jared Polis that the state would finally allow for legal home delivery, a development that will surely push sales numbers even higher. But unfortunately, the governor took that announcement as an opportunity to cater to what we think is probably a loud minority of powerful weed-haters when he said that home delivery would help his state reduce impaired driving.
What does that even mean? Does he just make a blanket assumption that a significant portion of cannabis users light it up in the car on the way home? Or that they are just always “impaired” from cannabis? Should all alcohol be available by home delivery only? How do we know that X amount of drivers won’t just chug it all on the way home? Oh, that’s right, we have laws for that and just like with booze, we already have laws about cannabis and cars in legal weed markets, yet millions of dollars are being invested in half-baked technology by companies hoping to cash in on the next phase of the drug war – “impairment”.
A SLIGHT PRESSURE BEHIND THE EYES. . .
Here in California, Prop 64 simply states that you cannot smoke weed in a car – whether you are driving or just a passenger. There is no numerical limit, like a Blood Alcohol Content for booze, written into the law and that is one of the few things that Cali got right. Though some people can “handle” their booze better than others, this pales in comparison to the range of effects that the same amount of cannabis can have on two different users. Additionally, we all know that one puff of weed can remain detectable in your system for 4-6 weeks! Most people who have an illegal amount of alcohol still detectable in their system are physically impaired to some degree from it. The same just is not true with cannabis. Proving that a driver is impaired on cannabis can and should only be based on their literal motor skills - not reciting the alphabet backwards or some other circus act, but how they are actually driving.
Opponents of cannabis legalization point to for-profit rehab facilities for their sources and offer the following symptoms of a driver who may be under the influence of weed:
Red, bloodshot eyes
Lethargy or drowsiness
The first five have nothing to do with driving or road safety whatsoever. Once you get to dizziness or drowsiness, we have some good news for everyone - there are already laws against this sort of thing. If a driver is presenting a danger to other motorists because they are tired, that isn’t a cannabis problem, it is a fatigue problem and law enforcement should handle it accordingly.
Instead we are seeing roadside checkpoints in Cali, Nevada, and Arizona employing dumbass devices like the Nose Ranger or the Dräger DrugTest 5000 – no we are not making those names up. These “picks and shovels” of the for-profit prison system are just the latest craze in a decades-long cycle of cops administering faulty roadside drug tests and ruining peoples’ lives based on bogus results and cooked quotas.
16 states have instituted a “zero-tolerance” policy when it comes to the presence of any drugs in a driver’s system, including cannabis. California is not one of them, and advocates here need to continue to push back against all forms of roadside cannabis testing in hopes that we can avoid being added to that list. The same goes for Colorado and any other state where cannabis legalization is still being, or set to be, challenged.
Critics will point to knuckleheads like this guy in New York who killed five people in a car crash as he reached speeds of over 150mph in the Camaro he had just stolen. Somehow he survived but the medical examiner in the case says that the defendant had the “second highest level of marijuana that they’ve ever seen in a living specimen”. There is no telling what compelled that young man to make those poor decisions that fateful night, but I don’t care how much weed he had in him, it was not the catalyst. He was a known gang member, he stole a car, he was speeding – where the hell were the cops? Probably shaking down soccer moms at a roadside checkpoint.
NO SOLUTION? NO PROBLEM!
The truth is, there is no simple answer for this issue but it really is not as big of a problem as the average American thinks it is. There absolutely is such a thing as being “too high to drive”, but there is a very important difference between being on weed and being ON weed. That threshold varies from user to user but studies continue to show cannabis users to be more cautious drivers and weed legal states have yet to plummet into daily multi car pile ups due to pot.
We do know that the answer is not more arrests. It is still just about a plant and some freedom and even in the midst of historic cannabis reform from coast to coast, our country still averages one weed arrest every 48 seconds. A vicious cycle that is certainly not in line with the inevitable future of cannabis in this country. But cops don’t care about yesterday or tomorrow, only who they can nail right now, and right now cannabis users are still not safe. All of these cases will be candidates for expungement one day, it is already happening – the days of the low level pot possession bust are coming to a close. That means that lazy law enforcement will have to actually start going after actual hard criminals like thieves, rapists, and killers. Unless, that is, they can find a way to milk this weed thing for another decade or two – that’s where the fear mongering and propaganda about “stoned divers” is rooted. It’s about their job staying safe, not the roads.
It should go without saying that we would never advise or condone the use of cannabis in a motor vehicle. But, if you are into that sort of thing, it is absolutely crucial that you know your state’s laws when it comes to consuming cannabis in a car. Then you need to weigh the risk versus the reward every time you spark up on the go. Here are a couple of facts to be aware of in California.
If you are being asked to submit to a roadside cannabis test in California, you are not legally obligated to do so unless you are being arrested for DUI. Even then, refusal to do so (on its own) can only result in the suspension of your license. If, however, you are smoking in your car and get popped in the act, you’re probably fucked. Joint, pipe, blunt, Peak, pen, whatever. . . if they lay eyes on you laying your lips on it you could likely be looking at a costly DUI offense.
Cannabis users are being scrutinized more than ever as curious peers and confused lawmakers look to us to try to make sense of this booming new industry. Setting the best example that we can on the roads now will hopefully help us to retain our sovereign rights once the Feds decide to get involved.