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The Cannabis Catch-Up: You've Been Warned

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The DMV message - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • The DMV message
If you’re a Vermonter who’s had to renew a vehicle registration in the last few weeks, you’ve likely received a warning in the mail from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Drug-impaired driving is a problem on America’s highways,” the message reads. “Like drunk driving, drugged driving is impaired driving, which means it is dangerous and illegal in every state.”

The note goes on to explain that though weed is legal in Vermont, “marijuana may impair your ability to drive safely. If you’re impaired, even to the slightest degree, take your key and Pass It On,” it reads.



So what’s the story behind the warning? According to Keith Flynn, who works in the state highway safety office, the Agency of Transportation cycles in new messages every few months. Sometimes it’s about speed, other times it’s about motorcycle safety.

“It’s just an awareness piece,” Flynn said. “It’s just a platform to put a message on.”

The safety messages could be getting through. As of August 19, 17 people had died this year on Vermont roadways, according to state data. An 18th person died in a Friday morning crash on Interstate 89 near Richmond; also Friday morning, a construction worker was hit and critically injured by a car on Route 7 near New Haven.

As of this time last year, 39 people had died on Vermont roadways. The numbers were similar the prior two years.

“It’s a good year,” Flynn said Thursday of the relatively low 2019 tally. “If you’re in the highway safety business, these are obviously good numbers. Still, it’s 17 people that died. It’s not one of those things where you can plant a flag and start doing a dance around the flag, because there are still 17 families that lost family members. But it shows that, at least for this year, the needle’s pointing in the right direction, reducing the number of families that have to go through all that.”

The data as of August 19 show that of 17 people killed in crashes this year, two drivers had “active cannabis — delta 9 THC” in their systems. During all of last year, 69 people died on Vermont roadways. Sixteen drivers in those fatal crashes had cannabis in their systems.

According to the state medical examiner's office, a forensic toxicology lab samples blood taken from a driver in a fatal crash. Any amount detected is listed in the data.
Gov. Phil Scott has long said he won’t sign a bill allowing the legal sale of cannabis until there’s a roadside testing protocol for drug-impaired drivers in place. Flynn, who spent six years as Vermont’s Department of Public Safety commissioner during the administration of then-governor Peter Shumlin, said it’s too soon to tell if legal weed is wreaking havoc on the state’s roadways.

“We just don’t have enough of a track record yet to draw any conclusions,” Flynn said. “We’re new to it … It’s a time thing. We have 100-plus years of research on alcohol — and we don’t have that on cannabis.”

Here are some other cannabis stories we read this week:

August 7: The U.S. Navy has prohibited sailors and marines from using any hemp-derived products, including those containing widely available cannabidiol. Testing positive for THC could lead to an "other than honorable" discharge from the military. [U.S. Navy]

August 19: "Federally insured credit unions may provide certain financial services to legally operating hemp businesses under new guidance published today by the National Credit Union Administration." [National Credit Union Administration]

August 21: Utah, which is working to implement a medical marijuana program, has abandoned plans for a state-run network of cannabis dispensaries. Instead, lawmakers will allow private businesses to operate 12 dispensaries across the state. [Ben Winslow, KSTU-TV]

August 22: The owners of Ridin' High Skate Shop, John Van Hazinga and Samantha Steady, face federal conspiracy charges for growing marijuana and selling it out of their eccentric Burlington storefront. [Derek Brouwer, Seven Days]

August 22: Hemp — it's not just for making fun of people who mistake it for weed and smoke it anymore. Turns out, smoking hemp is a fad driven by the surge in popularity of CBD. [Emily Corwin, Vermont Public Radio]

August 22: "A sudden spike in the number of registered patients and the addition of more dispensaries serving them may be causing a 'drought' of medical marijuana available in the Philadelphia region." [Sam Wood, the Philadelphia Inquirer]

August 22: Large areas of Ontario, the most populous Canadian province , will continue to be without recreational cannabis stores after the latest lottery for 42 licenses left out chunks of southwestern and eastern Ontario. [Matt Lundy, the Globe and Mail]

August 22: Bia Diagnostics, a food testing lab in Colchester, has expanded to include hemp and cannabis testing. [WCAX-TV]

Correction, August 25, 2019: A previous version of this story misstated the number of people killed in crashes last year.

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