Republicans in Congress lashed out at states with legal marijuana in late July during a hearing about the impact of the drug on traffic safety.
The hearing, titled “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned,” was primarily an opportunity for anti-drug zealots to wag a finger at Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized weed.
“As marijuana is de-stigmatized, use goes up, and it finds its way into the homes and candy and cookies and baked goods, and once it gets there, it finds its way into the brains of teens,” said U.S. Rep. John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Marijuana will also become more pervasive as states continue to embrace permissible laws on medical marijuana and the recreational use of marijuana, and kids and youth will have easier access to the dangerous, addictive drug.”
That statement ignores most of the facts on legal marijuana. For one thing, though incidents involving children who eat cannabis food have increased in Colorado, the upswing is relatively small. For another, studies have repeatedly shown that legalization doesn’t lead more young people to toke.
And despite the rhetoric in Congress, weed is only mildly addictive. Nine percent of users develop a dependence on the drug, compared to 15 percent for alcohol and 33 percent for tobacco.
But congressional Republicans couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a swipe at legalization and call for even tighter regulations on pot at the federal level.
Some members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said they want to see the federal government develop a standard testing method for drugged driving. Fleming pointed to a study out of Colorado that showed marijuana-related traffic deaths have increased since the state first allowed medical cannabis dispensaries in 2009.
Jeffrey Michael of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testified during the hearing that the government is working to develop a marijuana Breathalyzer in California. But he said officials don’t have enough scientific data on how drug use affects driving, and that makes it hard to develop national standards for testing.
“We make policy based on science,” said Patrice Kelly, acting director of the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance at the Department of Transportation. “We cannot make changes without the science.”
Actual evidence suggests stoned driving doesn’t work like drunk driving. Drunk drivers pose a far greater hazard on the roads than motorists who use marijuana. And studies have shown there is no direct connection between how much pot a driver uses and the level of impairment on the road.
Fleming is a staunch opponent of legalization who has said it would cause “death and destruction” among veterans. Rep. John Mica, Republican of Florida and chairman of the committee, has also fought marijuana reforms in Congress.