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AAA opposes legalized marijuana in Virginia, citing ‘negative traffic safety implications’

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AAA announced its opposition to bills in the Virginia General Assembly that would legalize recreational marijuana, saying the bills, HB 2312 and SB 1406, would put lives at risk on Virginia roads.

“AAA is deeply concerned that lawmakers are pushing the legalization of recreational cannabis, knowing the negative traffic safety implications. Even if passed, Virginia is not prepared to manage the potential highway safety consequences, lacks a sufficient number of drug recognition experts and has yet to fully commit to a comprehensive public education campaign around the traffic safety dangers,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“While AAA appreciates that public education clauses have been added to current bills, funding for them has not yet been vetted and even with public education, lives will still be lost should the legislation pass,” Meade said.

Among the deficiencies cited by AAA:

  • Public education: Comprehensive public education campaigns are needed to stress the dangers of driving high. While some progress has been made with lawmakers who have added initial public education requirements to pending bills, no funding has been dedicated to these initiatives and there is no ongoing tax revenue from the sale of marijuana products dedicated to educating the public on the dangers of drugged driving.
  • Law enforcement lacks the tools and training need to tackle cannabis impaired driving: As there is no chemical test for cannabis impairment, law enforcement must undergo costly, time-consuming training for a subset of officers to be classified as drug recognition experts. These highly trained officers’ determinations of impairment and subsequent testimony are critical, yet Virginia has the lowest number of trained DREs in the nation with only 25 at last report. While the Virginia Highway Safety office has made a commitment to increase the number of DRES in Virginia, it has taken the Commonwealth several years to get to its current number of DREs and it will take many more years before there is an adequate number of these experts needed to keep all road users safe.

While remaining opposed to legalization of recreational cannabis, AAA supports pending budget amendments and a dedicated revenue stream to fund drug recognition expert training and certification to help address the problem. There is currently no such revenue stream in the state budget.

Data

According to AAA, data shows that cannabis-involved traffic fatalities increase after cannabis legalization. After legalization in Washington state, fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used cannabis doubled, according to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Data from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice shows the number of fatalities with cannabinoid‐only or cannabinoid‐in‐combination (with other drugs and alcohol) positive drivers increased 153 percent, from 55 in 2013 to 139 in 2017.

AAA, in its statement on the issue, notes that it has grave concerns with the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam making such a significant policy decision that will put lives at risk within the context of a 46-day virtual legislative session.

“AAA asks lawmakers to consider each life that will be lost, both impaired drivers and their victims, and vote against legalization of recreational cannabis,” Meade said.


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