New Transportation Law Includes Important Provisions to Tackle Marijuana Impairment
(WASHINGTON)—The nation’s new multi-year highway bill includes important provisions supported by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) that will help define clear standards and establish assessment protocols for law enforcement to use in fighting marijuana-impaired driving. The provisions take effect as states continue to legalize or decriminalize the drug and as states like Colorado, where it is now legal, are reporting a marked increase in drugged-driving accidents and fatalities.
There is currently no scientific consensus regarding the level at which marijuana consumption impairs a driver and no effective way to measure this impairment in the field. This is problematic for law enforcement who, in contrast, can quickly and effectively establish a scientifically and legally-supported measure of alcohol impairment.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law earlier this month and approved by broad, bipartisan majorities in Congress, authorizes five years of federal highway and transit funding. It directs the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a comprehensive study on marijuana-impaired driving and to assess methods and devices that measure marijuana impairment in motor vehicle operators.
The law requires:
- A review of driving under the influence of marijuana impairment standards research;
- An outline of methods to differentiate marijuana from alcohol impairment in drivers;
- Formulation of recommended state-based policies on marijuana-impaired driving; and
- An examination of the role and extent of marijuana impairment in motor vehicle accidents nationwide.
It also stipulates that the Secretary of Transportation prepare a detailed policy report on these issues and deliver it within one year to congressional leaders.
At present, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana while Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and recreational use of the drug under certain parameters. In Colorado, law enforcement officials have documented a 100 percent increase in traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana in the years since the state legalized medicinal marijuana (Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report 2015).
WSWA President and CEO Craig Wolf applauded the law and its bipartisan supporters and authors.
“Congress and the President have taken an important first step to tackle drug impaired driving. While the beverage alcohol industry, government and law enforcement have together made great strides in reducing driving under the influence of alcohol, the same cannot yet be said of the rapidly-expanding marijuana industry,” Wolf said.
“Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson and President Obama deserve praise for recognizing and working to address this growing threat,” Wolf added.
WSWA is neutral on the issue of marijuana legalization, but Wolf has twice written to the nation’s Governors and Attorneys General to express concerns that states facing efforts to legalize marijuana need to take action to ensure that appropriate and effective regulations are put in place to protect the public from the dangers associated with the abuse or misuse of that intoxicating substance.
WSWA is the national trade association representing the wholesale tier of the wine and spirits industry, dedicated to advancing the interests and independence of wholesalers, distributors and brokers of wine and spirits. Founded in 1943, WSWA has 362 member companies in 50 states and the District of Columbia and its members distribute more than 80 percent of all wine and spirits sold at wholesale in the United States. More information is available at www.wswa.org.