Legal pot and roadway safety

Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/TNS New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Wednesday that removes cannabis from the list of controlled substances and eventually legalize, tax and regulate recreational pot for adults over 21. Opponents of the legislation said the law fails to address many public safety concerns.

The following editorial was written by the Daily News Editorial Board of the New York Daily News:

After years of promises going up in smoke, 2021 looks like it’s really, finally, actually gonna be the year New York legalizes marijuana use for adults. This is no radical watershed, as recreational use is now legal in 15 other states and two-thirds of the public here and around the nation back legal pot.

While everyone in Albany is on board, the details do matter. An Office of Cannabis Management will make decisions about licensing, growing and dispensing the drug. Although Gov. Cuomo had wanted to appoint all the members of the new agency’s governing board, the state Senate rightly pushed back and won agreement that the Legislature will have some picks.

There was also a dispute on how to carve up the estimated $350 million in annual revenue the drug’s sale is expected to yield for the government. Cuomo would have set aside a fixed dollar amount for those communities hardest hit by the decades-long war on drugs, a war that we didn’t win. The Legislature fought for and seems likely to have prevailed in using a percentage of revenue. That way, if the drug’s sales exceed expectations, poor communities will benefit proportionately.

Local governments and nonprofit groups would apply for the funds, to spend on job placement, substance abuse and mental health treatment programs. Like the matter of appointing board members, there’s no harm, no foul on how the dollars are distributed. That can’t be said on the life-and-death seriousness of driving while stoned.

Every state that has legalized marijuana had seen an increase in impaired driving, which means more crashes and more people hurt or killed. While the effects on behavior and reaction times may be similar, determining when a driver has used pot is trickier than detecting booze.

If human bodies absorbed marijuana the same way they did alcohol, the rules and roadside tests for intoxication for would be simpler. But marijuana is metabolized very differently. Unlike alcohol, which the body metabolizes quickly, traces of marijuana can remain in people’s blood and urine for many days beyond the period during which they’re actually impaired by the drug.

And unlike drunkenness, for which cops can deploy a breathalyzer to measure precise levels of intoxication, there isn’t a universally accepted standard for how to gauge’s someone’s level of impairment when they’re high on pot. What we do have are saliva tests, and the time to get them right. The state should use the many months it will likely take to set up the pot program after the bill is passed to aggressively study and perfect the swab tests.

This wouldn’t matter as much if New York got in line with 45 other states and simply forbade driving while intoxicated based on a person’s actual physical and mental impairment, not whether the driver had partaken of the one of the illicit drugs on a long list written into Section 3306 of the Public Health Law.

The usual suspects, like heroin or coke, are on the list, with marijuana soon to come off the list. But a homemade concoction or the newest designer drug isn’t on the list, so it’s no crime to drive while zonked out on whatever the latest fad is. Each time a new drug is identified, be it K2 and Spice or anything else coming out of China, the Legislature has to amend Section 3306 to keep up.

But since Albany insists on remaining stupid, the degrees of marijuana impairment will have to be written into the law books, as are the standards for booze.

Thankfully, the lawmakers backed off their ridiculous idea that driving while high on pot should be treated as a violation instead of a misdemeanor. This is no traffic ticket offense.


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