More research and awareness needed to determine ‘how high, is too high, to work or drive’
While thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form and Congress considers doing so, it’s important to remember there is no scientific standard or reliable test to measure marijuana impairment. We need a better understanding of marijuana impairment and its impact on driver and workplace safety. Simply put, no one can say, “how high, is too high, to work or drive.”
Next week, the American Property Casualty Insurers Association members will be on Capitol Hill participating in our annual legislative fly-in. One of our top priorities is promoting enactment of legislation that would allow for scientific research on the effects of state-legal marijuana products on drivers and worker safety.
As more states legalize marijuana, it is inevitable there are more people driving or working under its influence. Studies show marijuana use can impact reaction times and interfere with coordination, perception, judgement, and other critical abilities necessary for safe driving or functioning in the workplace.
To ensure the safety of roads and workplaces, it is imperative that an objective impairment standard and a reliable test for impairment be developed.
It can be hard to know exactly how impaired someone is on marijuana because there are no standardized methods of detection. It is less predictable and less measurable than alcohol. The extent and effect of marijuana impairment does not clearly correlate with the amount of the psychoactive component, THC, in a user’s blood. The amount of THC can peak before a user experiences impairment, and it may remain in a user’s system for weeks after consumption. Therefore, a positive blood test result may not indicate the user is impaired at the time of the test.
Michigan’s Impaired Driving Safety Commission concluded, in its report, that a positive test is indicative of marijuana exposure, but not a reliable indicator of impairment.
In states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, studies have identified a potential correlation of increasing auto crash frequency. There is a concern that increased legalization may also lead to an increase in workplace accidents. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that employees who tested positive had 55 percent more industrial incidents and 85 percent more injuries.
An objective standard and reliable test for marijuana impairment will allow law enforcement and employers to identify increased risks and act accordingly to protect the public. A high-quality scientific study, using marijuana product comparable to what consumers can access in state-legal marketplaces, is key to that development. However, government agencies face difficulties in developing marijuana impairment standards and determining medical efficacy because of federal prohibitions and arduous requirements placed on scientists seeking to use state-legal marijuana in studies.
We need more public awareness and research to develop an objective standard of impairment and reliable methodology to determine impairment. The Medical Marijuana Research Act, H.R. 5657, which passed the House, by vote of 343 to 75, in April 2022 is a good step towards the development of these critical elements. This legislation would ease restrictions on access to marijuana by research institutions and make it easier to conduct the needed research in order to better understand marijuana impairment.
More research on marijuana-impaired driving and working is essential to help keep our roads safe and help maintain safe and productive American workplaces. APCIA encourages Congress to enact the Medical Marijuana Research Act to allow critical steps needed to study marijuana-impairment and help save lives and protect workplaces.
David Sampson is the president and CEO of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, the primary national trade association for home, auto, and business insurers.
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