Richmond, Virginia (WRIC) — Some Virginians are underestimating the risks of using cannabis behind the wheel, according to a state agency that oversees recreational marijuana legalization, according to a new study.
in last press release, The Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) called the findings “disturbing” and said the data would be used to develop a safe driving campaign. The campaign, due to launch in January 2023, was authorized by the Virginia General Assembly when lawmakers legalized adult possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Driving under the influence of marijuana with an open container in a vehicle remains illegal.
“As a public safety and public health agency, CCA currently has no higher priority than creating a well-funded, aggressive and sustainable campaign aimed at reducing instances of driving with disability marijuana use,” CCA Acting President Jeremy Bryce said in a statement.
The survey, conducted by consulting firm Stratacomm, collected more than 750 answers from a demographic cross-section of Virginia residents ages 16 and older.
Nearly 14% of Virginia residents surveyed said they had made a hike a few times or more in the past year.
It has shown that Virginians do not believe that marijuana-disabled driving is as dangerous as other risky behaviors. Only 26% considered driving under the influence of marijuana “extremely dangerous,” compared to 60% for texting and 49% for driving while under the influence.
The survey also revealed that 47% of marijuana users “don’t always have a plan for a sober ride” and that 24% of respondents have been traveling in a driver-controlled vehicle more than once in the past year.
Additionally, nearly a third of respondents believe that those who consume marijuana “tend to drive slower, more cautiously and are usually safer drivers.”
This is not true, said Brianna Bonat, director of health policy and data at the Cannabis Control Authority.
Marijuana can affect the brain in terms of making informed decisions. You may have a slower reaction time, Bonat said in an interview on Monday. “With the recent legalization of marijuana possession of up to one ounce, people sometimes see the law as safe and that’s not always the case.”
Virginia legislators legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana in small quantities at home for adults in 2021. The legislation set a goal of allowing the retail sale of recreational marijuana by 2024, but that timeline is called into question after Republicans blocked a bill that would move the process forward. The discussion is expected to be reconsidered during the 2023 session, which begins in January.
Opponents of marijuana legalization have often raised concerns about a possible increase in driving under the influence.
Bonat said it’s unclear whether attitudes or behaviors have changed as a result of recreational marijuana legalization in Virginia. She said this is the first time they have collected this type of data and are planning to conduct a similar survey after the start of the Safe Driving Campaign.
“Data collection is new,” Bonat said. “This is an area that the country as a whole needs to work on.”
A Virginia State Police spokesperson said they have no data comparing DUI cases specifically involving marijuana before and after certification goes into effect in July 2021. Nor does the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
The Virginia State Crime Commission is currently analyzing historical DUI data. VCSS Executive Director Kristen Howard did not want to detail their findings prior to the November 16 presentation.
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police was not immediately available for an interview on Monday.
Virginia NORML CEO JM Pedini said these latest survey results should not stop the GA from moving forward with retail sales.
These latest findings should not be a deterrent for lawmakers to move forward with implementing retail access. In general, adult marijuana laws are linked to some changes in traffic safety and it’s important that we finish the work we started in Virginia, Bedini said.
One is often cited Study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Five states reported that legal retail sales saw a 6% increase in injury-accident rates.
The The National Conference of State Legislatures Says These Trends Can Be Difficult to Follow Because of the limitations of drug detection technology and the lack of a national standard for what counts as drug driving.
“Drugs do not affect people consistently. Drugs such as marijuana can also remain in the system for weeks, thus showing up in roadside tests while no longer causing impairment,” the NCSL said on its website.