Is the alcohol industry is spending money to get members of Congress to pay attention to the problem of “marijuana-impaired driving”? That’s the case being made on cannabis industry website Marijuana.com, where a blogger seems to have assiduously searched the famous WikiLeaks dump of DNC e-mails for any reference to our favorite herb.
What the blogger found was in the May 24, 2016 edition of Huddle, a daily e-newsletter for Capitol Hill insiders produced by the Politico website. That issue included a paid advertisement from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), which reads in part:
While neutral on the issue of legalization, WSWA believes states that legalize marijuana need to ensure appropriate and effective regulations are enacted to protect the public from the dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana… In the years since the state legalized medicinal use, Colorado law enforcement officials have documented a significant increase in traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana… Congress should fully fund Section 4008 of the FAST Act (PL 114-94) in the FY 2017 Appropriations process to document the prevalence of marijuana impaired driving, outline impairment standards and determine driving impairment detection methods.
Apart from appearing on the WikiLeaks website, that particular issue of Huddle—with the WSWA statement—appears on InboxCart, a website that archives e-newsletters. Interestingly, the WSWA statement does not appear with the text of that issue in the Huddle archive on Politico. It seems to have only appeared in the e-mailed version. Also only in the e-mailed version is the following text before the main subject line: “POLITICO Huddle, presented by Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.”
In other words, the WSWA advertisement and sponsorship credit seem to have only appeared in the version sent directly to the in-boxes of Congress members and Beltway insiders.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law by President Obama in December, authorizes $305 billion over the next five years for highway and motor vehicle safety, public transportation and related items, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Section 4008 does in fact address “marijuana-impaired driving,” calling for the Department of Transportation to study the question.
The daily carnage on our roads and highways is indeed a critical issue. In 2015, the number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. rose to 38,300, according to the National Safety Council—after years of declining due to high oil prices and the recession (which meant fewer motorists on the roads).
But the question of “marijuana-impaired driving” is widely misunderstood.
For instance, it is true that Colorado has seen an increase in road fatalities since legalization n 2012, as well as an increase in cannabis-related driving offenses. But the increase in fatalities is consistent with the national trend, and probably related to low oil prices. The WSWA statement didn’t mention (of course) that a 2011 study found a reduction in traffic fatalities in states that had legalized medical marijuana.. This is likely because folks have been turning to legal cannabis instead of alcohol—which impairs driving far more dramatically than pot.