Debate on drugs essential
Posted: 23-Jul-2020 |


“Debate on legalising recreational cannabis is hotting up, as the general election on 19 September nears. It will be put to a referendum vote,” says Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s Vote Yes campaign has a lot of money, high-profile people, and adept social media skills behind it.

The Say Nope to Dope campaign is backed by a number of conservative and faith-based groups, which doesn’t perhaps make it representative of the wider population who may be considering a no vote.

At the Road Transport Forum, we are asking that people get informed before they vote in what appears to be a binding referendum.

We are not telling people how to vote. We are encouraging people to ask questions and be clear what they are voting for with the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill.

There are unintended consequences that have shown up in other countries where recreational cannabis has been legalised, including increased road accidents and deaths. We don’t think this has been made clear.

As the road is the workplace of the people we represent, road safety is of critical importance. Truck drivers share the road with all other users and no matter how much professional drivers control their own behaviour, they can’t control the behaviour of others on the road. That makes them vulnerable.

We have started a social media campaign, designed to ask questions so that people can be aware of some of the unintended consequences of this Bill. For example, as currently drafted, the Bill gives no consideration to workplace health and safety. Also, where risk increases, costs such as insurance, and liabilities, such as Board liabilities, increase. Insurance is risk-priced – risk goes up, premiums go up.

Social media engagement can be brutal and it is worth remembering some people are incentivised to lobby for one side or the other.

The environment in New Zealand now is if you don’t agree with someone, or you dare to ask a question, often innocently because you want more information, you are cut to shreds. Free speech is in real danger, as is independent thought.

We can draw on information from other countries that have legalised recreational cannabis and we should learn from others experiences. In US publication FleetOwner we saw an article Do marijuana legalization efforts give a false sense of safety? It talks about the lack of awareness about the impacts of cannabis on driving and draws on the experiences of Darrin Grondel, vice president of traffic safety and government relations for the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, in relation to the impact of marijuana usage on commercial vehicle drivers. Here’s an extract:

Grondel explained the legalization of marijuana has made much stronger strains of the substance more readily available, and has expanded the consumption possibilities.

“It is actually much more dangerous because of the concentration levels that we're seeing in marijuana,” Grondel said. “We've seen marijuana go from 3 to 6% THC concentration, to almost 30% in flower and then to 93 to 94% concentration in some of the oils.”

“Those concentrations have a deep impact on the level of impairment,” he added.

Fleets and safety managers should be aware of the variety of methods with which someone could ingest marijuana. The traditional pulmonary method is done through smoking, vaporizing, dabbing and even inhalers.

Due to the commercialization of marijuana, many products can now be ingested through oral or digestive products, often referred to as edibles or drinkables.

We have research that backs what we are saying, particularly from the parts of the US, and Canada, where recreational cannabis use is legal. But in an emotional debate such as this, every person seems to draw on their own research. Bombarding people with research is unlikely to sway them. We prefer to rely on rational thought processes for those who still have some questions – we want them to be able to ask those questions and look for the answers themselves.

It is worth noting Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has available a research report you can read here. To put to bed the comments of many of those who didn’t seem to think drug driving was a problem, in 2017 and 2018 road deaths involving drugs (not just cannabis, but sometimes a combination including cannabis) were higher than road deaths where the driver was above the alcohol limit - Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum.



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