Editorial: Keep stoned drivers off the road

Stoned drivers are ‘significantly’ impaired for up to 4 hours after cannabis use: study
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Massachusetts is still riding the fiscal high of legalized marijuana, and Monday’s thumbs-up in the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy to new legislation shows the Legislature is in no hurry to tap the brakes.

Committee members polled about bills favored tighter restrictions on contracts between marijuana businesses and their host communities and establishing a Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, and laying the groundwork for cities and towns to allow on-site cannabis consumption establishments. All 14 committee members who registered an opinion on a bill relative to the expungement of convictions for marijuana possession voted to advance it favorably, as the State House News Service reported.

“The gap between the law’s stated commitment to equity and the on-the-ground reality of the industry shows just how much work we have left to do,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said. “There’s universal agreement about the problems: High costs of entry and lack of access to capital create a near-impossible barrier for many talented entrepreneurs. This bill addresses both sides of that coin. I’m thrilled we’re finally advancing it.”

If we weren’t talking about a drug, even one legalized for adult use since 2016, these would be positive steps. Helping businesses to grow and increasing access to capital are great things.

But studies are indicating some not so great things about marijuana’s effects, and they need to be addressed as much as host community contracts and entrepreneurship.

A new study found that cannabis use can “significantly” impair drivers for up to four hours after use.

“Expanding cannabis medicalization and legalization increases the urgency to understand the factors associated with acute driving impairment,” researchers wrote.

As the Herald reported, the study by University of California, San Diego, the FDA and the Research Advisory Panel of California published last week in the JAMA Psychiatry journal determined that THC consumption “comprised key driving simulator variables, assessed prior to smoking and at multiple time points post-smoking.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, in his final year in office, is pushing lawmakers to act on legislation filed by his office to toughen up enforcement and penalties for Massachusetts drivers who get behind the wheel when they’re stoned.

His bill is named for State Police Trooper Thomas Clardy, who was killed while conducting a traffic stop on the Mass Pike in Charlton in 2016 when a man with THC in his system crashed his car into Clardy’s cruiser.

A previous version of the bill stalled during the last session.

Back in 2019, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of people who acknowledge operating a motor vehicle after consuming marijuana spiked by 47% in a four-year span.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been studying cannabis use and driving, and points to a 2015 study on driving after smoking cannabis stated that THC in marijuana hurts a driver’s ability to multitask, a critical skill needed behind the wheel.

NHTSA said it continues to conduct research to better understand the relationship between marijuana impairment and increased crash risk.

But everyone who gets on the road is part of this research, and has been since 2016. If the Legislature is going to help the cannabis industry to grow in Massachusetts, it also owes it to its citizens to keep them safe by passing the Trooper Thomas Clardy Law.

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