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Mass. marijuana official says RMV ‘put politics over our youth’ in adopting stoned driving curriculum

Cannabis agency endorses controversial lesson plans over strenuous objections from Commissioner Nurys Camargo

A Chelsea police officer trained as a "drug recognition expert" runs the license of a driver who failed to let a pedestrian cross the street in a cross walk in 2019. Critics have questioned the inclusion of the protocol in new lesson plans that will be taught to teen drivers in Massachusetts.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

When officials in former governor Charlie Baker’s administration announced last month that Massachusetts driving schools would begin teaching a first-in-the-nation curriculum warning teens against driving stoned, the plan seemed to have the blessing of the state Cannabis Control Commission.

Commission members Kimberly Roy and Bruce Stebbins spoke at a Dec. 16 Worcester press conference to endorse the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s adoption of the lessons, which were written at Roy’s suggestion in collaboration with driving group AAA, while a release announcing the event appeared to have been co-issued by the commission.

But it’s now clear that not every member of the marijuana agency was sold on the idea.


At a public meeting Thursday, Commissioner Nurys Camargo lambasted AAA’s “Shifting Gears” curriculum, saying she was concerned by criticism from public health messaging experts that it is not evidence based and that its stern tone could actually encourage young drivers to get high.

She also suggested Roy and Stebbins had inappropriately acted on behalf of the five-member commission without first seeking a vote, and accused other state officials of rushing the rollout in advance of Baker’s departure from office.

“I think we put politics over our youth,” Camargo said during an unusually heated back-and-forth with Roy, who had announced that federal transportation officials plan to deploy the same lesson nationally. “I know it’s a big deal for Massachusetts to be first ... but at what cost?”

“When dealing with youth... sometimes the truth is the best way,” she added, “instead of trying to scare them.”

The RMV did not respond in detail to Camargo’s concerns, but said in a brief statement, “the Registry believes the impact which cannabis use may have when operating a vehicle is an appropriate topic to include in the curriculum.”

Critics of the lessons, however, say they could inadvertently do more harm than good — even as they agree teens should be encouraged to drive sober. They have taken aim at scenes in AAA’s video showing seemingly cool teens drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at a party, saying research has repeatedly shown that such images can prove more memorable than the warnings presented alongside them.


Skeptics have also questioned a section of the curriculum on the so-called “drug recognition expert” protocol, a roadside impairment evaluation developed by law enforcement officers that many experts say is unreliable and based on shoddy science.

Camargo’s criticism kicked off a tense exchange at the Thursday meeting of the commission, which continued even after the four members in attendance voted 3-1 over her objections to endorse the curriculum. Following the vote, Roy said pointedly, “this was never politics — this was public safety.” She also called the curriculum a “national model,” and repeatedly stressed that it had been reviewed by faculty at Brown University.

Camargo replied that Roy and Stebbins had only told other members of the agency about the impending announcement in a late November memo, giving them no opportunity to review the materials or weigh in.

“I’m not confident [in] the curriculum — I wish you all would have brought it to the commission earlier on so we could ... really think it through,” Camargo said. “Thank you and good luck with it. I hope it turns out how you all want.”


“Yes I did!” Roy retorted loudly, insisting she had initially worked with commission staffers on the project.

“I said you didn’t bring it to us as commissioners,” Camargo explained, adding, “we’re so afraid to talk about stuff in public.”

As she continued, Roy began to interrupt, prompting an exasperated Camargo to snap, “it is what it is, you got your votes!”

After the meeting, Camargo — who founded a nonprofit that works with Latina teens — told reporters she strongly supported teaching young people about impaired driving, but not with an “untested” curriculum that could backfire like other anti-drug campaigns of the past.

“Is it effective? Is it evidence-based? Is it relevant to young people? I don’t think we have enough answers,” she said.

Roy did not speak with reporters after the meeting, but later issued a statement saying that “the commissioners who voted yes ... understand the profound need for and importance of this safety program.”

The lessons were “collaboratively developed by public and private stakeholders, reviewed by academia and contributed to by students to ensure the research-based information and safety messaging on cannabis would effectively resonate with their peers,” Roy said.

Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.