Truckers want marijuana victims’ compensation fund

by Guy Page – November 22, 2019 – With increases in both crashes and collision insurance claims in cannabis-legal states, the American Trucking Association wants state and federal government to take steps to protect truckers, motorists and passengers from marijuana-impaired drivers.

“Car crashes in the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have soared as law enforcement and regulators struggle to define driving high, let alone determine how to fight it,” Bloomberg News reported Nov. 13. “Colorado, Oregon, and Washington saw a combined 5.2% increase in the rate of police-reported crashes after legalizing recreational marijuana, compared with neighboring states where such sales are illegal, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Researchers tallied crash rates between 2012 and 2016.” Collision claims are up 6% in the three states for the same time period.

The ATA board of directors wants state and federal governments to:

  • Maintain right of employers to test for marijuana if safety is at risk. Act 86, Vermont’s “personal use” marijuana law, follows Vermont’s workplace drug testing laws: permissible during hiring, but thereafter only for “probable cause.” It’s not allowed if the employer merely has “reasonable suspicion,” or just because the employee had an accident.
  • Study impact of marijuana on driving impairment, especially in conjunction with other substances.
  • Back development of oral fluid testing and impairment standards. No reliable marijuana-equivalent for the roadside alcohol “breathalyzer” exists. Instead, police are trained and deployed to recognize marijuana impairment.  
  • Create a marijuana victim’s compensation fund – paid for by dispensaries, cultivators and manufacturers. Vermont already is on board with the concept of victim compensation – there is a general crime victim’s compensation fund. However, current and proposed marijuana legalization law does not feature any victim’s compensation.

Noting that more than 93 million Americans live in marijuana-legal states, “As an industry that operates in all 50 states and across national borders, we need all levels of government to help us keep our roads and drivers drug-free,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said.

A marijuana victim’s compensation fund would of course add even more tax-and-regulate overhead to the legal marijuana industry, already challenged by a thriving, tax-and-regulation-free black market. In Massachusetts, legal marijuana costs $100/ounce vs. $60 on the black market. One year into legal retail, actual sales are only one-third of projected sales, the Nov. 20 Boston Globe said. By one estimate, half of Massachusetts marijuana buyers still buy illegally.

A retired Vermont investigator and educator for the Vermont Department of Liquor Control says Vermont is rushing into legalization without knowing enough about its impact on roadside safety. Any conclusions based on crashes in pot-legal Vermont, or even in Colorado, are simply premature.   “Were rushing to legalize everything,” Steve Waldo of the Windsor County town of Baltimore said in an interview today. The scientists say more study is needed. “Where are the studies? They just aren’t there. Every research scientist I’ve talked to says we need a period of time – like 5-10 years.”

Waldo emphasized that marijuana industry itself is motivated by financial self-interest. “It’s all about who’s going to make a pile of money out of this. The people in the business may be users, but when you get the big companies involved, it’s all about the bottom line.”

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