Local police preparing for pot legalization; new study measures crash data

Marijuana Legalization
Posted at 9:35 PM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 23:13:59-04

NORFOLK, Va. - On July 1, Virginia will become the next state where marijuana is legal for adult use.

With the date around the corner, law enforcement groups around the Commonwealth are preparing for the change.

“There's a lot of unknown,” Brian Luciano, president of the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association, said.

Luciano is no stranger responding to marijuana-related calls.

“Officers routinely respond to calls for service complaints of marijuana smoke in hotel rooms,” he said.

Now, he's getting ready for cannabis to be legalized in Virginia for adult use come next Thursday.

“We've been fielding a lot of questions about, 'What does this mean?'” he said. “How does it affect public intoxication? Driving under the influence - other things like that.”

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is taking action to get prepared.

“We have scrambled to do some training and policy development around how to conduct traffic stops. What evidence can be collected from a traffic stop? And, how [do] you determine someone might be marijuana-impaired while driving?” VACP Executive Director Dana Schrad said.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has been monitoring data in western states for years related to changes in traffic crash rates after pot is legalized.

“What we're finding is something in the neighborhood of 4-6% of an increase in crashes and claims in those states that legalized it when we compare them to their neighboring states that did not legalize,” IIHS President David Harkey told News 3.

Their latest study, published in June, shows the combined effect of legalization and retail sales was a 5.9% rise in injury crash rates and a 3.8% rise in deadly crash rates, with estimates varying by state.

But their research goes further.

“The crash-involved drivers - compared to the controlled group, others who are showing up in the emergency rooms for non-crash related incidents - marijuana alone was not a factor,” Harkey said. “But marijuana combined with alcohol was a factor. You're about five times as likely to have marijuana and alcohol in your system if you were in a crash compared with those other individuals who were not crash-involved.”

Related: Virginia state leaders, advocates answer questions about marijuana legalization

“When you see that marijuana and alcohol combined is more likely to be in one system than alcohol alone, that's when we start to have the concern,” he added.

Harkey said there's a need to do more in terms of education and enforcement.

“We hope that the policymakers will be there to support the dots - the enforcement agencies, the public health agencies who are going to be responsible for providing the interventions we need to keep everyone safe,” he said.