New York is racing faster and faster toward legalizing recreational weed.
But while we’ve heard much about the windfall of tax revenue that weed sales could generate, we have yet to hear much about how the state will contend with the effect that weed could have on vehicle crashes.
Other states that have legalized are already grappling with the problem.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office released data showing that pot was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal accidents in the state from 2012 to 2016, the Boston Herald reported.
Baker recently announced a public awareness campaign, the paper said, with plans to train more police officers to recognize and deal with drivers impaired by marijuana.
Massachusetts on Nov. 20 opened the first two legal weed shops on the East Coast. So weed was already a problem in fatal accidents before legalization. The question now is how legalization might exacerbate an existing problem.
Studies from the Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that vehicle accidents were up in four states that had legalized as compared to surrounding states where weed was still illegal.
Colorado, which legalized in 2013, has a mixed record. The number of people involved in highway deaths who had weed in their system has steadily grown. But the number of traffic fatalities where drivers had enough weed in their system to be considered impaired has dropped.
The reason: Weed can stay in your system a lot longer than other intoxicants. It’s one of the many problems with quantifying the effect that weed has on traffic accidents.
One problem: There is no reliable breath test for weed. So there’s no way to accurately tell how intoxicated a driver under the influence of cannabis is.
Another problem: Cannabis is often used in combination with other intoxicants, such as alcohol or opioids, making it tough to tease out just how much marijuana itself is contributing to crashes.
But it’s clearly not helping. So why the rush to make weed legal? Simple: Money.
Those Massachusetts stores that opened on Nov. 20 sold $7 million worth of smokable weed and pot-infused goodies and lotions by Dec. 11, according to MassLive.com.
New York is feeling added pressure because New Jersey is already moving toward legalizing weed. And Massachusetts isn’t that long a drive away. Vermont has also legalized. The entire country of Canada, with which New York shares a border, has legalized weed for recreational use.
Why should those areas get the tax dollars and not us? It’s this calculus, as well as political threats from the left, that have helped turn Gov. Andrew Cuomo from the guy who prevented smokable weed from being part of New York’s medical marijuana program into more of a Bob Marley.
Cuomo, according to reports, could push for legalization during his budget address in January, possibly paving the way for recreational weed in 2019.
The state Health Department last July recommended legalization, saying that the positive benefits outweigh the negative. City Comptroller Scott Stringer has estimated that the legal weed could be a $3.1 billion industry in New York, generating $435 million in state tax revenue and $336 million in city taxes.
That’s big business. Think of what we could so with all that revenue. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has made legalizing weed one of the focal points of her bid for public advocate, saying that the money generated could go toward fixing our crumbling mass transit system. “Weed for Rails,” she calls it.
Cuomo and state lawmakers just have to make sure that all that green doesn’t lead to more blood on our streets and highways.
Tom Wrobleski wrote this piece for the Staten Island Advance.