Proposition 19, Legalizing Marijuana

Two polls last week showed conflicting results on the likelihood that Californians will legalize marijuana in November. SurveyUSA shows it passing rather easily, while Field Research has it narrowly loosing. There are all sorts of methodological reasons the two may differ, but suffice it to say, the possibility remains that marijuana will be legalized. Assuming for the sake of argument that it does pass either this time, or in some state in the near future, a whole host of complications face the field of AOD prevention. Prevention efforts have almost always relied on the illegality of marijuana to allow for some rather vague understanding.

For instance, marijuana almost certainly impairs cognitive functions necessary for driving safely, and thus its use should increase crash risk. However, we really don’t have an answer to how much marijuana would cause substantial increases in risk, or exactly what impairments are most likely to cause the crashes. Thus, the prevention message has mostly rested on the fact that folks shouldn’t really have any marijuana in their systems anyway, so just stick with zero as the answer to how much should be in the system when driving. But that answer will no longer suffice in a legalized environment. When someone may smoke as much as they please, and then only need to worry about “impaired” driving, then we really need to know far more precisely what amount of active drug is in the system and what level of impairment is caused by that level. We have it for alcohol because it turns out to be relatively easy to measure alcohol within the system, and there also turns out to be a relatively straightforward link between BAC and impairment. We just aren’t there yet with marijuana measurement.

That is only one of the many issues we will soon face if legalization happens. I’m hoping to bring together scientists and experts in the field of marijuana and alcohol to forecast the expected public health outcomes of legalization and its implications to prevention. It’s looking like I may have some government support in that effort. More will follow as I know more, so stay tuned.