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Study finds some users think marijuana can sober you up enough to drive. Wrong, says the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

December 15, 2018

A new traffic study sponsored by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission shows that one out of every 10 survey respondents admitted to drinking and smoking marijuana before driving.

While a large majority of people don’t get behind the wheel drunk and high, it remains a startling statistic for those tasked with keeping roads safe. According to recent commission data, among drivers in fatal crashes from 2008 to 2016, 44 percent tested positive for poly-drug use – the most prevalent type of impaired drivers, with the most common combination being alcohol and cannabis.

What’s more, since 2012, the number of poly-drug drivers involved in fatal crashes has increased an average of 15 percent each year.

Those same respondents also were more likely to believe that cannabis helps sober them up after consuming alcohol. They’re more willing than others to hit the road while high, as it makes them feel “calmer” and more able to “respond to unexpected events.”

“Which is completely the opposite of what we want people thinking,” said Mark Medalen, the program manager of the safety commission. “It’s just not true.”

The results of that survey, conducted by the Center for Health and Safety Culture in the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, were published on Dec. 2. It featured about 900 respondents between the ages of 18 and 65, all residents of Washington.

Among other notable findings, researchers learned that cannabis users tend to drink more than others, and that frequency of marijuana consumption is similar for those who drive under the influence of cannabis and alcohol versus those who do not.

The survey also showed that males are three times more likely than females to partake in such behavior. People living in Eastern Washington are at a slightly higher risk.

Get a Lyft, not a ticket

In response to the findings, Medalen and Vivian McPeak, a longtime cannabis activist and the man behind Seattle Hempfest – an annual three-day, marijuana-infused festival in the heart of Seattle – made the trek to Spokane this week, where they stood outside Satori South dispensary on the South Hill and gave away $20 coupons for Lyft.

Their goal: to change the mind of those who drive impaired get them to choose the back seat over the driver’s seat after lighting up this holiday season.

“I compare it to alcohol,” Medalen said. “It’s legal, but it’s still illegal to use and drive.”

The campaign is part of a Lyft and Governors Highway Safety Association grant awarded to the safety commission, which hopes to distribute $10,000 in free rides. McPeak and Medalen said they were able to distribute several hundred coupons in Seattle before coming to Spokane Wednesday morning.

Standing in the bitter morning cold, what they found was a hard truth in marijuana retail: most pot buyers aren’t out and about at 10 in the morning. However, reactions were positive and the group was still able to connect with a few shoppers.

“It’s been slow and steady,” McPeak said. “And we’ve had really good reactions. People seem to get it.”

McPeak said he also was personally motivated to reverse the trend. Just a few days ago, he said a 23-year-old mother and Hempfest staff member was hit by a poly-drug driver and remained comatose in the hospital.

“It really hit close to home,” he said. “It drives home how real this is.”

Kayla Keane, the store’s manager, said she hoped a similar program could come back closer to New Year’s Eve, and again before the Super Bowl in February.

“Being under the influence of anything while driving is not something we support,” she said. “I think the stigma is it’s OK to drive while under the influence of marijuana. We’re trying to break that stigma.”

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