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MARIJUANA MOMENT

Congressional bill would require legal marijuana states to consider impaired driving policies

Elizabeth Earl

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

Democratic leadership in a House committee introduced a bill Wednesday that includes a provision requiring legal marijuana states — and only those states — to consider ways to promote education about the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving while curbing such behavior.

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee filed the legislation, which is also being cosponsored by several chairs of subcommittees under the panel. While the main thrust of the INVEST in America Act is aimed at promoting the completion of various long-term infrastructure projects, it also features language concerning cannabis policy.

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Under the bill, a section of current law requiring that states establish highway safety programs would be amended to add a section stipulating that states “which have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana shall consider programs in addition to the programs…to educate drivers on the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving and to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”

Reform advocates support measures to reduce impaired driving, but there may be some who take issue with the provision given the implication that legalizing marijuana increases the risk of people driving while impaired. Research isn’t settled on that subject.

A congressional research body said in a report last year that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.

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Beside that contention, the legislation seems to neglect to take into account that cannabis-impaired driving isn’t exclusive to legal states and that public education could be beneficial across all states regardless of their individual marijuana policies, activists say.

“It is somewhat absurd to draw a differentiation between states when it comes to the current legal status, because it is entirely feasible that every state will be legalized by the end of this decade,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “And regardless, I have heard rumors that some Texans consume cannabis despite its prohibited status.”

Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio said in a statement that the overall bill “is our opportunity to replace the outdated systems of the past with smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure that fits the economy of the future, creates millions of jobs, supports American manufacturing, and restores U.S. competitiveness.”

Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Chairman Dan Lipinski are also sponsoring the legislation, which is scheduled for a full committee vote on June 17.

Read the story on Marijuana Moment.