Todd A. Griffith | The Arizona Republic
June 5, 2016
Scientist: Why would Arizona voters approve an initiative that protects drivers stoned on marijuana, even if they cause crashes and deaths?
In my profession, I have seen too much death, injury and damage caused by individuals driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.
Marijuana is the most prevalent drug causing impairment after alcohol. It contributes substantially to DUI carnage, even though statistics indicate only about 8 percent of the population regularly uses marijuana.
This can only mean that Arizona will also face major increases in death and injury from marijuana DUI crashes if marijuana becomes a legal recreational drug here.
That legal marijuana will substantially increase impaired driving is not an opinion; it is demonstrated by facts from Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legal.
What happened in other states
In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 92 percent from just after marijuana was commercialized there — a rate nearly 12 times higher than the increase in all traffic deaths.
In Washington state, it was recently reported that fatalities among drivers using marijuana have doubled since legalization there.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that if marijuana is legalized in Arizona, death and injury due to marijuana-impaired drivers would not also increase along those same trajectories.
The damage inflicted on families is tremendous, but it isn’t the only impact. There’s also financial damage. Alcohol-related crashes caused an economic loss of more than $521 million in Arizona in 2014, according to Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts.
The additional DUI crashes that would result from increasing marijuana will add many more millions in economic loss.
Marijuana isn’t safer than alcohol
Marijuana advocates routinely argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol. They’re wrong. Marijuana affects cognitive functions just as alcohol does. It impairs drivers through distortion of time and distance, loss of coordination, increased reaction times and inability to maintain lateral travel.
Also, this argument implies that people would switch from alcohol to marijuana because it is “safer.” That wasn’t the experience in Colorado, where alcohol DUI deaths remained relatively constant while marijuana DUI deaths rose 92 percent. And alcohol sales have gone up since legalization in Colorado, not down.
In addition, Arizona statistics show that marijuana and alcohol routinely appear together in DUI drivers. Legalization of marijuana will only encourage greater use of both impairing substances. There are now entrepreneurs in marijuana-legalized states who are planning to sell alcohol infused with marijuana.
The pairing of marijuana and alcohol is particularly disturbing, because when combined they interact to impair driving to a greater degree than each individually.
Why protect drivers from prosecution?
Legalized marijuana will result in huge increases in DUI crashes, deaths and costs to the citizens of Arizona. However, there is a final concern that makes the situation more dire.
The marijuana-legalization initiative not only legalizes marijuana but protects marijuana-impaired drivers from prosecution. It expressly prohibits the state from prosecuting impaired drivers based solely on a per se impairment level for marijuana, such as Arizona’s 0.08 blood alcohol level.
Why would any voter wish to support a marijuana-legalization initiative that protects drivers stoned on marijuana and will cause huge increases in DUI marijuana vehicular crashes and deaths?
I do not want to pass these terrible impacts on to Arizona’s citizens and future generations. I urge Arizonans to resoundingly defeat this initiative.
Todd A. Griffith was a forensic scientist for more than 45 years, including 20 years as director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory System. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.