AN OPEN LETTER TO THE GOVERNOR & THE LEGISLATURE
CALLING FOR THE REMOVAL OF CANNABIS LEGALIZATION FROM THE STATE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS
On behalf of the State’s STOP-DWI Coordinators Association, I am writing to urge the Governor and the Legislative Leaders to remove consideration of the legalization and regulation of cannabis from Budget negotiations, to allow appropriate time to consider the implications of this policy in regard to highway safety.
While alcohol-related offenses continue to decline in New York, drug-impaired driving has been on the rise – yet another result of the epidemic use of opioids - and with it, an unacceptable risk to public safety. A recent study by Columbia University analyzing 24 years of fatal crash data from two-car crashes concluded that drug-impaired drivers were twice as likely to cause a fatal crash – usually by crossing the center line. While the emphasis of the study was on opioids, data from states that have legalized marijuana show consistent and significant increases in drugged driving and its tragic toll.
Indeed, what we are seeing in states that have legalized recreational use should be setting off alarms here in New York – a State that prides itself in its leadership in apprehending and removing impaired drivers from its roadways. Since cannabis began its journey to legalization in Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 154%. Similarly, after legalization of recreational use in 2012, the state of Washington experienced twice as many fatal-crash-involving drivers with THC in their system by 2014 compared with previous years. Other studies show a dangerous increase in the combined use of marijuana and alcohol and/or other drugs. For example, a 2014 study in Colorado revealed that 37% of the drivers who tested positive for marijuana also had alcohol in their system, 15% had other drugs and another 15% had all three present. Yet, despite these warning signs, there appears to be a willingness to treat New York motorists as collateral damage in the rush to push through a major policy initiative under cover of the Budget.
While the Governor’s proposal makes passing reference to highway safety (including a long-awaited redefinition of the term “drug” in the Vehicle and Traffic Law), half measures, such as re-designating the combined use of drugs and alcohol as a felony and vague references to funding highway safety out of cannabis revenue hardly represent the thoughtful or comprehensive approach that is necessary to address the serious challenges that legalization of recreational use will surely present.
It is not the role of this Association to opine on whether cannabis legalization is good overall public policy. It is, however, our statutory responsibility to work within our communities to reduce the incidence of drunk and drug-impaired driving in our counties. From what perspective, we have no confidence that the appropriate thought has been given to the implications that this proposal will have on the lives of the millions of New Yorkers who take to the highways every day. When products with THC content of more than 90% available for consumption we are surely facing a whole new school of impairment. The question is, what are New York policy-makers going to do to address the chemical, biological, legal and educational constructs that will circumscribe a whole new reality of impaired driving. As of yet, it does not appear that the question has even been asked, let alone answered.
For the foregoing reasons, we urge that this proposal receive the thoughtful analysis it deserves.
Captain Robert Richards