By Guy Page
Should Vermont create and oversee the legal, for-profit cultivation and sale of marijuana? Why or why not? The Vermont Marijuana Commission wants to hear from you. The following 6:30-8:30 p.m. meetings have been scheduled to hear public feedback:
Nov. 26: Asa Bloomer Building (2nd floor) in Rutland
Nov. 28: Williston Central School Auditorium
Dec. 3: Morse Center, Black Box Theatre in St. Johnsbury
Dec. 5: Vermont Veteran’s Home in Bennington
Dec. 6: White River Junction National Guard Armory
To help inform Vermonters interested in attending the ‘listening tour,’ the Marijuana Commission has published three separate fact sheets, each dealing with a key concern about marijuana legalization:
The Commission needs to provide answers for some startling statistics related to use. In 2017, 16 Vermont highway fatalities had marijuana in bloodstreams, compared to six alcohol-only DUI highway fatalities.
Of the 69 fatalities on Vermont highways in 2017, 16 were confirmed by post-mortem testing to have had cannabis and/or THC in their bloodstreams. Police suspect that a total of 16 were driving under the influence of drugs only (including marijuana). By contrast, six people died on Vermont highways in 2017 while driving under the influence of alcohol only. Speeding was the number one cause of highway deaths.
The increased connection of marijuana and fatal highway accidents in Vermont mirrors the findings in Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012. The Denver Post reported in 2017:
The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. Increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes, according to coroner data since 2013. Nearly a dozen in 2016 had levels five times the amount allowed by law, and one was at 22 times the limit. Levels were not as elevated in earlier years.
Just as the state of Vermont should not increase the speed limit or legalize the passing of school buses because it would certainly lead to more highway deaths, the state of Vermont should consider that increased marijuana use will likely lead to more highway deaths.
No effective impaired driving test
Roadside saliva testing detects THC presence but not cannot determine the level of concentration. Therefore the suspect can admit to consuming marijuana but can challenge any conclusion of impairment. Even if Vermont adopts the “zero tolerance” marijuana DUI now in effect in Quebec, suspects can again successfully challenge a law presuming but not proving impairment. At present only a blood test can determine THC concentration levels. In Vermont, police cannot order a blood test against the suspect’s will, but must have a court order from a judge – a lengthy, cumbersome and expensive process that is unlikely to be available for routine traffic stops.
Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)
Thorough DRE investigation requires some level of cooperation by the suspect (for example, allowing the officer to take a pulse, check for eye dilation, slurred speech, etc.) The suspect charged with the June 8, 2018, double-fatal death of acclaimed local runner Rob Lind and his fiancé in Newfane chose not to cooperate with the DRE, press reports said. Also, the Roadway Safety report notes that DRE testimony is being challenged in courts (pg. 13). As of early 2018, no one in Vermont had been convicted in a jury trial based on DRE testimony. No one doubts the skill and commitment of Vermont law enforcement DREs, but neither can we count on this strategy to keep Vermonters safe.
Under “tax and regulate,” Vermonters will pay more for car insurance
Paying more for car insurance isn’t as traumatic as involvement in a marijuana-induced highway accident, but it is a consequence of legalization that will affect virtually every Vermonter. Publications as diverse as Consumer Reports and the pro-legalization website “The Cannabist” report that auto accidents and insurance rates have risen more in marijuana-legal states than in neighboring states. The chief actuary of the Insurance Information Institute estimates a 4-6 percent increase in car insurance rates in pot-legal states. In Vermont, A 6 percent increase in insurance premiums on all 615,950 registered vehicles in Vermont would cost about $28.3 million. The average Vermont car insurance premium is $764, according to Reviews.com. A 6 percent increase would add $46 in annual premiums, for a total of $810.
Imposing tax and regulate legalization on Vermonters would take money out of their pockets, including those who would not drive under the influence and who would rightfully resent the state passing a law that makes driving a car not only more dangerous, but more expensive, too.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.