More people will die and be injured on Missouri roads and highways if voters approve recreational marijuana in the Nov. 8 election on Tuesday, experts say and statistics show.
Missouri voters will be asked in Amendment 3 whether to legalize recreational marijuana. The state’s voters approved medicinal marijuana in 2018.
“With legalization comes increased use and subsequently higher rates of THC-impaired driving,” says pharmacist Dr. Phillip Drum of California, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. “This results in more crashes, more damage, more loss of life – especially of those who had nothing to do with the drug but were just trying to travel on our roadways safely.”
Drum knows from personal experience. Besides having schooled himself in the subject, he says his older sister – who was a nurse and one of the main reasons he got into medicine – was hit head-on and killed by a marijuana-impaired driver on her way to work in Washington state.
But experience in other legal-marijuana states also backs him up. According to a 2021 report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, since recreational marijuana was legalized by voters in Colorado in 2012, traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 138%, whereas traffic deaths overall increased just 29%.
“Driving while being impaired by marijuana poses a serious threat to all who travel on our roadways, including pedestrians and cyclists,” Drum tells The Heartlander. “Pedestrians like little children and teens on the street on Halloween are especially vulnerable to marijuana-impaired drivers.”
That’s not a wholly theoretical assertion.
“A driver was high on marijuana when he plowed his Ford Mustang into Vancouver trick-or-treaters walking on a sidewalk on Halloween – killing one of them,” The Oregonian reported in 2014.
Likewise, in Seattle a driver “high on marijuana and prescription painkillers” killed a 16-year-old pedestrian “as he walked hand-in-hand with his girlfriend” on Halloween in 2012, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The driver “is alleged to have had a blood-marijuana level nearly twice the legal limit hours after the fatal crash.”
Drum might call that remarkable, since he says, “When THC is absorbed into the bloodstream, THC wants to find fatty tissue – fast. You can see a loss of 90% of THC in blood within about 80 minutes.”
Sgt. Corey Carlisle of the Kansas City Police Department’s DUI unit has tracked the prevalence of THC in the city’s crashes since 2020.
“Marijuana is definitely present in the majority of our blood-draw cases involving both impairment and crashes,” he tells The Heartlander, adding that in 2021, about 30% of all Kansas City fatal crashes involved marijuana.
“And this was just the trend from medicinal marijuana,” Carlisle notes. “So, when we come with recreational, it’s just going to get even worse.”
Sgt. Carlisle also has studied the experiences of legal-marijuana states.
“Every one of those states, once they implemented legalizing marijuana, fatality crashes and impaired driving (with) drugs – specifically marijuana – increased drastically,” he says.
Yet, a television ad promoting a “yes” vote on Tuesday for Amendment 3 touted that legal marijuana would actually help law enforcement do their jobs by allowing them to focus on “serious crime.”
“Support The Police” by approving recreational marijuana, the ad exhorts voters.
“That was pretty presumptuous of them to speak on behalf of the police,” Carlisle says.
As for the argument that legalizing marijuana will free up police time?
“There is absolutely no way to measure that, and I have never heard any law enforcement officer say that,” Carlisle says. “My area of specialty is impaired driving, and I can tell you studies show when marijuana is legalized it has a devastating effect on traffic-related crashes and impaired driving arrests.”
In contrast to helping law enforcement, he says, “From a societal point of view, quality-of-life issues will increase, causing police to get called in regard to open-air [marijuana] smoking in buildings and public places. Calls for service will increase, with disturbances in regard to people high on marijuana.”
State laws also aren’t ready to protect Missouri drivers, Carlisle says. Laws on marijuana-impaired driving need to be updated to match those for alcohol, he says, and more Missouri law enforcement officers should get certified training in blood drawing.
Drum agrees with Carlisle that laws have not kept up with the dangers of legalization.
“Everyone is exposed to the risk posed by a THC-impaired driver,” Drum says. “These users are getting their drug of choice before work and after work. This leaves everyone they share the roadways with exposed to harm, including the threat of being killed or severely maimed by a drugged driver.
“Everyone in the state of Missouri who pays auto insurance needs to expect rates to increase to cover the increase in crashes, including property damage and loss of human life.
“State legislators must increase roadside testing before they allow further commercialization of marijuana. The state must increase the legal consequence of impaired driving, and do so by generating zero tolerance laws to protect everyone – from the pedestrian, to the cyclists and other drivers and their passengers – and by charging fatalities caused by impaired drivers with second-degree murder.”
Drum says Missourians, as many around the nation, “have not been provided with accurate information, or the science that substantiates the risks associated with the highly potent hallucinogen being sold today.
“The public has been subjected to the brainwashing of a powerful interest group with political ties and a wealthy and ambitious industry that spends heavily on getting its message out.”
For his part, Carlisle tried informing the Kansas City Council about his findings on THC impairment in area crashes.
“They had no interest,” he said.