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Beyond revenue, marijuana legalization also brings new challenges, duties

Editorial



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David Rauzi drauzi@idahocountyfreepress.com

Smiling faces on the newspaper’s front page show members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs at Madras, Ore., turning earth for a state-of-the-art greenhouse and cultivation facility, estimated to initially create 85 jobs and a net revenue of $11.7 million its first year in operation.

That operation will be for cannabis operation, one that is predicted, according to the May 4 story, “to turn out very well for the tribes.”

Right now it’s all smiles and visions of economic opportunity for Idaho’s neighbors. But while the grass is truly greener over the other side of the fence, pot legalization comes with a new set of challenges that may put some perspective to those seeing it as just gold at the end of the rainbow.

A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study shows crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled in Washington after that state legalized the drug in 2012. Examining drug tests and fatal crashes in that state, AAA found two results:

• the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently used marijuana more than doubled from eight to 17 percent between 2013 and 2014; and one in six drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2014 had recently used marijuana.

AAA also presents issues facing law enforcement that attempt to enforce drug-impaired driving on motorists who have used marijuana. Unlike testing for alcohol impairment, setting legal limits for THC (the main chemical component in marijuana) levels is problematic for the following reasons:

• There is no science showing drivers reliably become impaired at a specific level; high THC levels may drop below legal thresholds before a test is administered; and marijuana affects people differently, making it a challenge to develop consistent and fair guidelines.

We’d like to say we’ll just sit back and watch how this all turns out from a distance, but Idaho is bordered by four states – Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Montana — that have legalized pot for either medicinal or recreational use; and obviously, that won’t be restrained within their respective borders.

We’ll not hash out pros and cons here for legalization at some nebulous point down the road, as we need to deal with the immediate problem of marijuana-impaired drivers.

To that end, we agree with AAA’s urging for a system that requires a positive test for marijuana use, and evidence of behavioral and physiological impairment; this system would rely on law enforcement training programs.

And funding that training should come from a combination of sin taxes on marijuana production and sales, as well as increased criminal penalties. And as good neighbors, those green states should be leading such efforts to mitigate the problems they have directly encouraged through legalization.



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