Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Driving While Stoned: Issues and Policy Options"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Tyler Jones, Celeste Miller and Ross Halperin. Here is its abstract:

THC is the intoxicant most commonly detected in US drivers, with approximately 13% of drivers testing positive for marijuana use, compared to the 8% that show a measurable amount of alcohol (NHTSA, 2015). (The two figures are not strictly comparable because cannabis remains detectable for much longer than alcohol, and also for long after the driver is no longer impaired; therefore, the difference in rates does not show that stoned driving is more common than drunk driving.)  Cannabis intoxication has been shown to impair reaction time and visual-spatial judgment.

Many states, including those where cannabis sales are now permitted by state law, have laws against cannabis-impaired driving based on the drunk-driving model, defining criminally intoxicated driving as driving with more than a threshold amount of intoxicant in one’s bloodstream — a per se standard — as opposed to actual impairment.  That approach neglects crucial differences between alcohol and cannabis in their detectability, their pharmacokinetics, and their impact on highway safety.

Cannabis intoxication is more difficult to reliably detect chemically than alcohol intoxication.  A breath alcohol test is (1) cheap and reliable; (2) sufficiently simple and non-invasive to administer at the roadside; and (3) a good proxy for alcohol in the brain, which in turn is (4) a good proxy for subjective intoxication and for measurable driving impairment.  In addition, (5) the dose-effect curve linking blood alcohol to fatality risk is well-established and steep.

None of those things is true for cannabis.  A breath test remains to be developed.  Oral-fluid testing can demonstrate recent use but not the level of impairment.  A blood test requires a trained phlebotomist and therefore a trip to a medical facility, and blood THC levels drop very sharply over time-periods measured in minutes.  Blood THC is not a good proxy either for recency of use or for impairment, and the dose-effect curve for fatality risk remains a matter of sharp controversy.  The maximum risk for cannabis intoxication alone, unmixed with alcohol or other drugs, appears to be more comparable to risks such as talking on a hands-free cellphone (legal in all states) than to driving with a BAC above 0.08, let alone the rapidly-rising risks at higher BACs.  Moreover, the lipid-solubility of THC means that a frequent cannabis user will always have measurable THC in his or her blood, even when that person has not used recently and is neither subjectively intoxicated nor objectively impaired.  That suggests criminalizing only combination use, while treating driving under the influence of cannabis (however this is to be proven) as a traffic offense, like speeding.

May 10, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Insurance institute analysis finds increase in car crash claims in legalization states

As reported in this industry article, the Highway Loss Data Institute has completed an interesting analysis of car crash claims data in marijuana legalization states.  Here are the basics from the article:

Legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Oregon and Washington has resulted in collision claim frequencies that are about 3 percent higher overall than would have been expected without legalization, a new Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) analysis shows. This is HLDI's first look at how the legalization of marijuana since 2014 has affected crashes reported to insurers....

Colorado and Washington were the first to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older with voter approval in November 2012. Retail sales began in January 2014 in Colorado and in July 2014 in Washington. Oregon voters approved legalized recreational marijuana in November 2014, and sales started in October 2015.

HLDI conducted a combined analysis using neighboring states as additional controls to examine the collision claims experience of Colorado, Oregon and Washington before and after law changes. Control states included Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, plus Colorado, Oregon and Washington prior to legalization of recreational use. During the study period, Nevada and Montana permitted medical use of marijuana, Wyoming and Utah allowed only limited use for medical purposes, and Idaho didn't permit any use. Oregon and Washington authorized medical marijuana use in 1998, and Colorado authorized it in 2000.

HLDI also looked at loss results for each state individually compared with loss results for adjacent states without legalized recreational marijuana use prior to November 2016. Data spanned collision claims filed between January 2012 and October 2016 for 1981 to 2017 model vehicles. Analysts controlled for differences in the rated driver population, insured vehicle fleet, the mix of urban versus rural exposure, unemployment, weather and seasonality.

Collision claims are the most frequent kind of claims insurers receive. Collision coverage insures against physical damage to a driver's vehicle in a crash with an object or other vehicle, generally when the driver is at fault. Collision claim frequency is the number of collision claims divided by the number of insured vehicle years (one vehicle insured for one year or two vehicles insured for six months each). "The combined-state analysis shows that the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have experienced more crashes," says Matt Moore, senior vice president of HLDI. "The individual state analyses suggest that the size of the effect varies by state."

Colorado saw the biggest estimated increase in claim frequency compared with its control states. After retail marijuana sales began in Colorado, the increase in collision claim frequency was 14 percent higher than in nearby Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming. Washington's estimated increase in claim frequency was 6.2 percent higher than in Montana and Idaho, and Oregon's estimated increase in claim frequency was 4.5 percent higher than in Idaho, Montana and Nevada. "The combined effect for the three states was smaller but still significant at 3 percent," Moore says. "The combined analysis uses a bigger control group and is a good representation of the effect of marijuana legalization overall. The single-state analyses show how the effect differs by state."

Each of the individual state analyses also showed that the estimated effect of legalizing recreational use of marijuana varies depending on the comparison state examined. For example, results for Colorado vary from a 3 percent rise in claim frequency when compared with Wyoming to a 21 percent increase when compared with Utah.

HLDI's new analysis of real-world crashes provides one look at the emerging picture of what marijuana's legalization will mean for highway safety as more states decriminalize its use. In the coming years, more research from HLDI and others will help sharpen the focus. As HLDI continues to examine insurance claims in states that allow recreational use of marijuana, IIHS has begun a large-scale case-control study in Oregon to assess how legalized marijuana use may be changing the risk of crashes with injuries. Preliminary results are expected in 2020.

A full accounting of this research provinding an interesting accounting of crash claims appears in this extended bulletin.

June 22, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Florida is such an interesting marijuana reform state: "Snowbirds potential partakers of medical marijuana"

Fla med mjThis lengthy local article from Florida, headlined "Snowbirds potential partakers of medical marijuana," highlights just some of the many reasons I think Florida is the most interesting state to watch in the near future concerning marijuana law, policy and reform. Here are excerpts from the article:

Sunshine and beaches are great attractions, but there could be another reason snowbirds flock to Florida if Amendment 2 passes: The availability of medical marijuana. Whether that happens depends on several unknowns as Florida heads into the last seven weeks before people vote on the question of legalizing medical pot.

State and local tourism officials don't believe the amendment will have an effect on tourism if it passes. They say the impact on snowbird residents would be miniscule. They also say they have no intention of using medical marijuana as a marketing tool.

Others say it's too early to tell. "I'm a snowbird with pain associated with MS," said David Dillabough, of Syracuse, N.Y., who winters in St. James City. "I avoid hydrocodone, oxycodone and the like. Marijuana is my choice whenever I need a break from persistent pain.

"Like other retired/older people, Florida is attractive to me because of the warmth and sunshine. Legalized medical marijuana wouldn't be the icing on the cake (that would be my friends), but it would be the flowers on the icing."

The state Department of Health financial analysis estimating the possible impact of the passage of Amendment 2 says snowbirds are a potential pool for medical marijuana tourism. "An estimated 17,178 to 41,271 may apply for an ID," the analysis says. That estimate has not been updated since the analysis was released in early November, said Phil E. Williams of the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research. However, the multistep process someone will have to go through to get an ID for medical pot would discourage shorter-duration visitors, the analysis says....

If the amendment passes, the effective date would be Jan. 1. The health department would have six months from that date to come up with rules; nine months to issue ID cards to qualified patients and caregivers; and nine months to register medical marijuana dispensaries.

Tamara Pigott, executivwere director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, said you have to remember tourists and snowbirds are two different things: Snowbirds are considered part-time residents who are here for a month or longer and often own property. Many snowbirds have established Florida residency, an attractive option because the state has no income tax. Tourists are short-term visitors.

Even if up to 41,000 snowbirds could apply for a medical pot ID, that number pales in the context of the actual numbers of state visitors, she said. Visitors reached 94.3 million last year according to Visit Florida, the state's official tourism and marketing entity, and the state is aiming for 100 million in 2014. One conference alone could bring in 40,000 people in a big city, Pigott said. "I don't anticipate that we would see a significant bump."

The legalization of medical marijuana might affect seasonal residents, said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But it probably would not have much effect on short-term visitors, which is what we do and how we promote," he said. Snowbirds aren't even counted in their statistics, he said. "I guess we're going to watch it and see where it goes from here."...

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry, agrees with Florida officials when it comes to tourism and medical marijuana. The reason is states that have legalized medical marijuana have a residency requirement, she said. However, one possible exception is that Nevada is planning to allow reciprocity in their medical program, so people who are legally registered as medical marijuana patients in other states can purchase medical marijuana in Nevada, she said. "But that hasn't actually started yet, and it's still not going to create a tourism boom, since anyone it would affect is able to access medical marijuana in their home states already," West said....

Kathy Lowers of Naples said Amendment 2 will not make Florida a more attractive place to visit or live. Lowers, who has six children, said she moved here from California in part to avoid what she called the "sleaziness" of pot shops that popped up there. "To me, if Florida goes the way of California, I will just be so depressed," she said. "I am not against medical marijuana, but against pot shops dispensing it. There is a big difference.

"The Florida amendment is way more liberal than even the California one, so goodbye to family-friendly Florida," Lowers said. "People like me come here because it is more wholesome than other places; pot will ruin that benefit of visiting or living in Florida."

September 16, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Watch now: Case Western's Marijuana, Federal Power, and the States conference

As Rob noted yesterday, Case Western Law is hosting a conference today on Marijuana, Federal Power, and the States.  The first panel has just begun and Rob's presentation will be beginning soon.  Doug and I will both be speaking on a panel this afternoon.  There is a fantastic lineup top-to-bottom today (myself excluded).  Best of all, if you'd like to watch, you don't have to buy a last minute ticket to Cleveland.  The event is being webcast--the webcast link and the conference agenda are both here.  The conference's organizer, Jonathan Adler, has a post with some additional background on the conference here.

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September 12, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Back from Colombia

I returned home yesterday from a two week laptop-free vacation in Colombia.  I had a great trip overall, visiting Bogota, Medellin and Guatape.  I've travelled in South America before--to Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina--but this was my first time in Colombia.  

I'd recommend the country to anyone, especially Medellin and Guatape, which is one of the most charming small towns I've ever been to.  Bogota is nice as well, though (in my opinion) not quite as vibrant as Medellin or quite as safe when it comes to big-city-street crime.  (Full disclosure: I was robbed at knife-point in broad daylight in Bogota after wandering into a less touristy part of town en route to a local fruit market, which may color that opinion a little bit.  The tourist areas of Bogota were quite safe though, and I'm sure I would have been fine had I been more mindful about where I was going.  The robber only took cash and it was over very quickly, so I didn't let it detract from an overall great experience in Colombia.)

I would also recommend an extended computer break to anyone who (like me) is attached to their laptop.  I think this is the first time I've spent more than a few days away from my computer since 2005, back when my machine was too heavy and WiFi too scarce to make it worth traveling with a laptop.  I did have my iPhone and iPad with me this on this trip, so I can't say I disconnected completely.  Still, ditching my laptop let me unplug from work and other obligations in a way I haven't done in a long time.  It was a nice break.  

Apologies to readers for the unexplained blogging absence.  I figured best not to alert the internet to the fact that no one was at my house for two weeks.

I may also be slow in posting this week as well as I play catch-up on various work tasks.  

August 11, 2014 in Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)