Alcohol industry targets pot with Constellation-Canopy deal


Alcohol industry targets pot with Constellation-Canopy deal

The Columbian / Associated Press

Alcohol industry targets pot with Constellation-Canopy deal

Alcohol giant Constellation Brands is making a foray into marijuana, a precedent-setting move for an industry that has mostly stayed on the sidelines during the cannabis boom.

Constellation will pay about $191 million (C$245 million) for a 9.9 percent stake in Canopy Growth Corp., a Canadian seller of medicinal-marijuana products. The deal kicked off the biggest rally in nearly a year for Canopy, which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the ticker WEED.

The legalization of marijuana in Canada and a growing number of U.S. states is opening up a huge potential market — just as demand for alcohol is slowing. Still, pot remains prohibited at the U.S. federal level, meaning American companies have to tread carefully.

Constellation, based in Victor, New York, said it has no plans to sell cannabis in the U.S. or other markets until it’s legal “at all government levels.” For now, it’s more a matter of identifying markets with growth potential, said Chief Executive Officer Rob Sands, whose company sells Corona beer, Svedka vodka and other brands.

“Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early-stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction,” he said in a statement.

The deal values Canopy at roughly C$2.5 billion, catapulting the business into the highest echelons of the marijuana industry. Constellation would become the company’s biggest shareholder.

As part of the Constellation agreement, the two companies will collaborate on cannabis-based beverages that can be sold as adult products — but only in places where the products are legal at the federal level.

Canada plans to legalize recreational marijuana by July 2018, but the initial product offerings such as edibles and cannabis-infused beverages will be limited, Canopy CEO Bruce Linton said. Such products will be phased in as Canada moves to extinguish the black market in the coming years.

“This looks a lot like the new normal,” Linton said by phone, noting that Canopy and Constellation have a “blank sheet” to create cannabis-infused beverages. “There’s no need to include alcohol, nor is there an intent to include alcohol in how we follow through with things.”

In the U.S., 64 percent of the population now wants to lift the ban on cannabis, according to a Gallup poll released last week. That’s the widest margin since the firm began asking about the topic in 1969, when only 12 percent of the population approved.

Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for adult use. That means one in five Americans over 21 are allowed to eat, drink, smoke or vape cannabis — even though it remains illegal at the federal level. The states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Twenty-one additional states allow it for medicinal purposes. The legal cannabis market was $6 billion last year and is expected to reach $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.

The Constellation deal includes warrants that will let it eventually double its stake. The purchase is expected to close during the company’s third fiscal quarter.

Constellation is paying C$12.98 a share, 1.5 percent above Canopy’s closing price of C$12.79 at the end of last week. Shares of the marijuana seller, which is based in an old Hershey chocolate factory in Smiths Falls, Ontario, had already surged 40 percent this year.

“We see this transaction as a game-changer for Canopy, as well as the industry at large,” Beacon Securities analyst Vahan Ajamian said in a note. He recommends buying Canopy shares and raised his target price to C$16.50 from C$14.

The Constellation transaction could be the first of many, Ajamian said.

“We suspect more alcohol companies may look to accelerate plans to enter the industry — as well as pharmaceutical and tobacco companies,” he said.

— Jennifer Kaplan and Jen Skerritt contributed to this story.


Published at Tue, 31 Oct 2017 13:00:30 +0000

FDA Sends Warning to CBD Companies


FDA Sends Warning to CBD Companies

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warning letters to multiple companies involved in the distribution of products containing cannabidiol (CBD).

fdaThe FDA sent warning letters today to four CBD-related companies claiming them to be making unsubstantiated claims “related to more than 25 different products spanning multiple product webpages, online stores and social media websites”. The companies are Natural Alchemist (California), Greenroads Health (Florida), That’s Natural! Marketing & Consulting (Colorado), and Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises LLC (also Colorado).

“As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from health fraud, the agency today issued warning letters to four companies illegally selling products online that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure cancer without evidence to support these outcomes”, states a Wednesday press release. “Selling these unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, but also can put patients at risk as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. The deceptive marketing of unproven treatments may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.”

The release states that the FDA “has grown increasingly concerned at the proliferation of products claiming to treat or cure serious diseases like cancer. In this case, the illegally sold products allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the marijuana plant that is not FDA approved in any drug product for any indication.” The companies receiving warning letters “distributed the products with unsubstantiated claims regarding preventing, reversing or curing cancer; killing/inhibiting cancer cells or tumors; or other similar anti-cancer claims. Some of the products were also marketed as an alternative or additional treatment for Alzheimer’s and other serious diseases.”

“Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors”, said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb “We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products.”

According to The Cannabist, the FDA issued similar warning letters to CBD product makers in 2015 and 2016.

About Anthony Martinelli

Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at


Published at Wed, 01 Nov 2017 22:11:08 +0000

Court Rules New Jersey Must Consider Reclassifying Marijuana


Court Rules New Jersey Must Consider Reclassifying Marijuana

The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court has ruled that the state must consider reclassifying marijuana due to the fact that marijuana’s health benefits are “abundantly and glaringly apparent now”.

The court ruled that Steve Lee, former director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, had the legal authority to reclassify marijuana away from Schedule 1 when he denied a request in 2014. The ruling says states that since New Jersey has now had a long-running medical marijuana program, the government must revisit the issue and again consider whether marijuana should be removed as a Schedule 1 drug, which indicates it has no medical value and is as dangerous as substances such as heroin.

According to Attorney Joseph Linares of Newark, who brought forth the case on behalf of inmate Steven Kadonsky, the state may decide to keep marijuana a Schedule 1 drug following the ruling, though they can’t do so because the substance has no medical value.

Linares says the ruling is “an important incremental step” toward reclassifying marijuana. “What this decision does recognize is the widespread acceptance of marijuana use in medical treatment,” says Linares.

To view the full 42-page ruling, click here.

About Anthony Martinelli

Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at


Published at Wed, 01 Nov 2017 22:25:11 +0000

Here is the First Fortune 500 Marijuana Stock


Here is the First Fortune 500 Marijuana Stock

By Charles Bovaird,

Constellation Brands, Inc. (STZ)—a Fortune 500 company that owns brands such as Corona beer, Black Velvet Whisky and Casa Noble tequila—recently agreed to take a 9.9% stake in Canadian marijuana company Canopy Growth Corp. (TWMJF). The two companies plan to work together to develop and market beverages that will be infused with Cannabis, according to The Wall Street Journal. (For more, see also: Top 4 Marijuana Stocks to Watch.)

Legalization Spreads

Rob Sands, president and CEO of Constellation Brands, told The Journal that the U.S. government will probably legalize marijuana at the federal level in the coming years, considering “what’s happened at the state level.” Even if these expectations don’t materialize, his company could sell marijuana-infused beverages in Canada, where they are expected to be legalized by 2019.

Since Canopy Growth is the world’s largest publicly traded marijuana company, the decision made by Constellation Brands gives the beverage maker a strong presence in the marijuana industry, The Journal reported.

Shifting Demographics

Constellation Brands made this move at a time when there is evidence that some consumers are reducing their alcohol consumption in favor of marijuana, according to Fortune.

“We believe alcohol could be under pressure for the next decade,” analysts for Cowen Inc. (COWN), led by Viven Azer, wrote in a note earlier this year, Fortune reported. “Consumer survey work suggests [about] 80% of consumers reduce their alcohol consumption with cannabis in the mix.”

Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in one capacity or another, according to The Journal. Should more states permit the use of this drug, consumption could rise sharply, providing a strong market for edibles that are infused with marijuana. (For more, see also: Which States Have Legal Pot & Will It Stay Legal?)

About Anthony Martinelli

Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at


Published at Tue, 31 Oct 2017 18:43:57 +0000

New pot degree not for stoners


New pot degree not for stoners

The Columbian / Associated Press

New pot degree not for stoners

When Alex Roth’s mother sent him an article announcing a new degree program being offered at Northern Michigan University, the sophomore immediately switched his major. Roth is now majoring in cannabis.

The program, Medicinal Plant Chemistry, is the first program to offer a 4-year undergraduate degree focusing on marijuana, according to Brandon Canfield, the associate professor of chemistry who started the program.

“When my friends hear what my major is, there are a lot of people who laugh and say, ‘Wow. Cool dude. You’re going to get a degree growing marijuana,” Roth told The Washington Post. “But it’s not an easy degree at all.”

The former environmental studies major won’t be getting high in class or growing his own plants. Instead, his required courses include tough subjects such as organic chemistry, plant physiology, botany, accounting, genetics, physical geography and financial management.

Twenty-nine states, including Michigan, have legalized medical marijuana. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Forbes projects the sale of recreational marijuana to jump to $11.2 billion by 2020. “I want to be on the forefront of this industry and be a part of the normalization of marijuana,” Roth said.

Several accredited colleges and universities offer credit and noncredit courses in marijuana. The University of California at Davis has an undergraduate course on the Physiology of Cannabis, the University of Denver offers a course on the Business of Marijuana and Vanderbilt’s law school has Marijuana Law and Policy course. Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., calls itself America’s first cannabis college, but offers a certificate rather than a college diploma, according to its website.

But Northern Michigan University in Marquette is the first to offer a degree in the sprouting field.

“The historical stigma associated with cannabis is quickly vanishing,” says the school’s website, “and although there is a surge in businesses related to the marijuana economy, there is a major gap in educational opportunities available to prepare people for this field.”

Canfield told The Post to think of it as getting a science degree with a minor in business. He said he got the idea to start the major last year after attending the National Conference of the American Chemical Society where there was an official cannabis chemistry division.

During the conference, he learned about the increasing need for trained professionals in the medical cannabis industry and developed the curriculum with a group of his colleagues.

Once university officials learned that the program would focus primarily on laboratory analysis and chemistry of cannabis, he said there was really no backlash. The school began publicizing the program in March. Since then, about a dozen students have officially declared in the major. Canfield said some students heard about the program and transferred to NMU over the summer.

“We’re receiving all sorts of calls and emails expressing interest in the program from retirees all the way down to your traditional first-time freshman,” Canfield said.

One required course, appropriately titled Chemistry 420 (in honor of the unofficial so-called “pot holiday,”) is an advanced analytical course where students study various classes of bioactive compounds and their plant origins and metabolite chemistry. The syllabus includes the history of medicinal plant use and cannabis chemistry, along with a lab in which students will perform plant tissue extraction for alkaloids and terpenoids and study purification procedures of different plants.

Next semester a 50-minute seminar series course will be offered for the first time for students in the major to come together to discuss current issues or trends in the cannabis industry, including legal issues and economic trends.

Students will be required to choose a recent article on medicinal plant chemistry and lead a discussion on it. In week six a guest speaker will talk to the class on entrepreneurial opportunities in the field.

Roth said he was attracted to the major after seeing a family friend with a two-year-old daughter suffer from a rare genetic mutation. Once the child started using nonintoxicating cannabinoid (CBD) her seizures decreased and quality of life increased. He said he wants to “be part of a whole new side of science and normalize marijuana.”

Roth’s roommate, Benjamin Ritter, also switched his major to Medicinal Plant Chemistry. He said his mother has multiple sclerosis and also takes CBD to manage her symptoms.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of work but I definitely think it’ll be worth it. I really want to help patients,” Ritter said.

Canfield said he thinks more programs like this will be popping up around the country soon. “It’s kind of a taboo subject and the response we’re getting is that a lot of people are interested in actually pursuing legitimate educational programs focused on (cannabis) … As the legality increases there will be more opportunities for peer-reviewed research.”

Canfield said upon graduating from the program students will be qualified to work in a number of different laboratory positions. They could choose to open their own dispensaries or go on to work with the medicinal and therapeutic properties of marijuana.

Despite not being able to handle actual marijuana on campus, there are still opportunities for NMU students to handle the plant off-site.

“We’ve got a long list of licensed Michigan businesses who want to take our students for internship programs,” Canfield said.


Published at Sun, 29 Oct 2017 12:00:54 +0000

Confusion coming with California’s legal marijuana


Confusion coming with California’s legal marijuana

The Columbian / Associated Press

Confusion coming with California’s legal marijuana

LOS ANGELES — Ready or not, California kicks off recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 1. And, mostly, it’s not.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are among many cities still struggling to fashion local rules for pot shops and growers. Without the regulations, there could be limited options in many places for consumers eager to ring in the new year with a legal pot purchase.

“The bulk of folks probably are not going to be ready Jan. 1,” conceded Cara Martinson of the California State Association of Counties.

In general, California will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce and grow six marijuana plants at home.

Come January, the newly legalized recreational sales will be merged with the state’s two-decade-old medical marijuana market, which is also coming under much stronger regulation.

But big gaps loom in the system intended to move cannabis from the field to distribution centers, then to testing labs and eventually retail shops.

The state intends to issue only temporary licenses starting in January, and it has yet to release its plan to govern the estimated $7 billion marketplace, the nation’s largest legal pot economy.

If businesses aren’t licensed and operating in the legal market, governments aren’t collecting their slice of revenue from sales. The state alone estimates it could see as much as $1 billion roll in within several years.

Operators have complained about what they see as potential conflicts in various laws and rules, or seemingly contradictory plans.

The state expects businesses that receive licenses will only work with others that hold them. But that has alarmed operators who wonder what will happen if their supplier, for example, decides not to join the new legal market.

Others say it’s not clear what could happen in cities that don’t enact pot laws, which they warn could open a loophole for businesses to set up shop. Some communities have banned recreational sales completely.

Most banks continue to refuse to do business with marijuana operators – pot remains illegal under federal law – and there are also problems obtaining insurance.

With recreational legalization fast approaching, “we don’t have enough of anything,” lamented Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, a marijuana industry group.

The route to legalization began last year when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for recreational pot sales to adults in the nation’s most populous state.

Unlike the state, cities and counties face no deadline to act. However, the concern is that confusion and a patchwork of local rules could discourage operators from entering the legal economy, feeding a black market that could undercut the legitimate one.

Local regulation is a foundation block of the emerging pot economy: A grower or retailer needs a local permit first, which is a steppingstone to obtaining a state license to operate.

But those rules remain in limbo in many places.

San Jose, the state’s third-largest city, has a temporary ban on sales other than medical pot but officials this week proposed hearings to take another look at how to regulate the local industry.

Kern County, home to nearly 900,000 people, has banned the sale of marijuana even as California legalizes it. Supervisors said they see it as a danger to citizens and also voted to phase out more than two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries.

In Los Angeles, which by some estimates could be a $1 billion marketplace, voters have been strongly supportive of legal pot.

But its proposed regulations hit snags, including a dispute over a proposal for so-called certificates of compliance, which operators feared would not meet qualification requirements for state licenses.

Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, an industry group, warned last month that L.A.’s draft rules could upend the emerging industry by failing to provide a prompt way to license suppliers, potentially forcing then to shut down. And he’s dubious that the city will be ready to begin issuing licenses on Jan. 1.

“There’s not a lot of calendar days left in the year,” he said.

San Francisco, another city that strongly supports legalization, still is debating local rules. Again, it’s uncertain what will be ready, or when.

“What we want to do is bring everything into the daylight, regulate it, get fees for the cost of regulation and collect taxes as appropriate,” said county Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

San Diego is among the cities ready to get the recreational market going.

Phil Rath, executive director of the United Medical Marijuana Coalition, a San Diego trade group, said years of disorder in the medical market led to increased black market business. That provided a ready example of how not to manage recreational sales.

San Diego moved promptly, setting up a system that will allow recreational sales at dispensaries permitted under the medical system, once they qualify for a state license.

Industry experts say the distribution system – a sort of main artery where pot will be received from growers, sent out for testing, taxed, and eventually shipped to retail stores – is not robust enough to support the vast new market.

The distributor model “was the subject of most of the political wrangling over the last two years,” Allen said.

“That’s the control point,” he said, but “we don’t have enough of them.”


Published at Sun, 29 Oct 2017 21:48:52 +0000

Stanford Study: Marijuana Use Linked to More Sex


Stanford Study: Marijuana Use Linked to More Sex

A study conducted by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine has found that “despite concerns among physicians and scientists that frequent marijuana use may impair sexual desire or performance, the opposite appears more likely to be the case.”

(Photo: THC Finder).

The study, published online Oct. 27 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, are based on an analysis of more than 50,000 Americans ages 25-45. Researchers call the results “unambiguous”.

“Frequent marijuana use doesn’t seem to impair sexual motivation or performance. If anything, it’s associated with increased coital frequency,” said the study’s senior author, Michael Eisenberg, MD, assistant professor of urology. The lead author is Andrew Sun, MD, a resident in urology.

The study does not establish a causal connection between marijuana use and sexual activity, Eisenberg noted. But the results hint at it, he added. “The overall trend we saw applied to people of both sexes and all races, ages, education levels, income groups and religions, every health status, whether they were married or single and whether or not they had kids.” According to Eisenber, the study is the first to examine the relationship between marijuana use and frequency of sexual intercourse at the population level in the United States.

“Marijuana use is very common, but its large-scale use and association with sexual frequency hasn’t been studied much in a scientific way,” Eisenberg said.

To arrive at an accurate determination of marijuana’s effect on intercourse frequency, Eisenberg and Sun turned to the National Survey of Family Growth, sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey, which provides data pertaining to family structures, sexual practices and childbearing, reflects the overall demographic features of the U.S. population. Originally conducted at regular intervals, the survey is now carried out on an annual basis. It explicitly queries respondents on how many times they’ve had intercourse with a member of the opposite sex in the past four weeks, and how frequently they’ve smoked marijuana over the past 12 months.

The investigators compiled answers to those questions for all years since 2002, when the survey first began collecting data on men as well as women. They included data from respondents ages 25-45 and excluded a small percentage (fewer than 3 percent) of respondents who had failed to answer one or more relevant questions.

In all, Eisenberg and Sun obtained data on 28,176 women averaging 29.9 years of age and 22,943 men whose average age was 29.5. They assessed these individuals’ self-reported patterns of marijuana use over the previous year and their self-reported frequency of heterosexual intercourse over the previous four weeks.

Some 24.5 percent of men and 14.5 percent of women in the analysis reported having used marijuana, and there was a positive association between the frequency of marijuana use and the frequency of sexual intercourse. This relationship applied to both sexes: Women denying marijuana use in the past year, for example, had sex on average 6.0 times during the previous four weeks, whereas that number was 7.1 for daily pot users. Among men, the corresponding figure was 5.6 for nonusers and 6.9 for daily users.

In other words, pot users are having about 20 percent more sex than pot abstainers, Eisenberg noted.

Positive association is universal

Moreover, Eisenberg said, the positive association between marijuana use and coital frequency was independent of demographic, health, marital or parental status.

In addition, the trend remained even after accounting for subjects’ use of other drugs, such as cocaine or alcohol. This, Eisenberg said, suggests that marijuana’s positive correlation with sexual activity doesn’t merely reflect some general tendency of less-inhibited types, who may be more inclined to use drugs, to also be more likely to have sex. In addition, coital frequency rose steadily with increasing marijuana use, a dose-dependent relationship supporting a possible active role for marijuana in fostering sexual activity.

Nevertheless, Eisenberg cautioned, the study shouldn’t be misinterpreted as having proven a causal link. “It doesn’t say if you smoke more marijuana, you’ll have more sex,” he said.

Stanford’s Department of Urology supported the work.

About Anthony Martinelli

Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at


Published at Sat, 28 Oct 2017 22:02:17 +0000

Belize House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana


Belize House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

The Belize House of Representatives has approved a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

The Belize flag.

The approved legislation would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana throughout all of Belize (the exception is if possession occurs on the premises of a school or other educational institution).

“I think this act will also allow for law enforcement personnel and the ministry to focus and concentrate more on the serious crimes that are affecting and plaguing our societies and our communities across this country and like the leader of the opposition said he would have wanted to see the whole legalization of marijuana, but I believe that it is prudent that we as a responsible government take this one step at a time as we progress to ensure that we always make the right decision that will be a betterment for our nation”, says Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Belize’s Minister of Home Affairs.

Belize, a country in Central America, has a population of roughly 366,000.

About Anthony Martinelli

Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at


Published at Thu, 26 Oct 2017 04:55:52 +0000

New Gallup Poll: 64% of U.S. Adults Support Legalizing Marijuana


New Gallup Poll: 64% of U.S. Adults Support Legalizing Marijuana

A new Gallup poll has found that 64% of adults in the United States support legalizing marijuana, up from 60% last year, and 50% in 2011. 

This is this the highest level of support at the national level ever recorded by Gallup, which has been asking the question since 1969. It’s also the first time that a majority of Republicans support legalization (51%).

“It makes sense that support for ending marijuana prohibition is increasing”, says Morgan Fox, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Americans are tired of wasting resources arresting hundreds of thousands of individuals every year for using a substance that is safer than alcohol. In the five years since the first states made marijuana legal for adults, it has become increasingly clear that — unlike prohibition — regulation works.”

Fox continues; “Adult-use marijuana laws create jobs, generate tax revenue, and protect consumers while taking the marijuana market out of the hands of criminals.

When Gallup first asked U.S. adults whether or not they support marijuana legalization in 1969, only 12% of respondents stated that they do.

About Anthony Martinelli

Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at


Published at Wed, 25 Oct 2017 09:41:27 +0000

Weed Porn: G13

Weed Porn: G13

YAKIMA — The number of fatal Washington crashes involving drivers with marijuana in their system rose to 79 last year — more than double that of 2012 when voters legalized its recreational use.

In Yakima County, however, the number has remained essentially unchanged at an average of about five a year, according to the state Traffic Safety Commission.

But experts caution the statistics focus only on fatal crashes and don’t provide a complete picture of the impact pot is having on road safety.

When issuing impaired driving citations, most police agencies don’t differentiate between alcohol, pot or other drugs. They’re simply categorized as DUIs.

As a result, data regarding marijuana-impaired drivers isn’t complete. No statewide data is kept on serious injury accidents involving marijuana because of reporting inconsistencies by local police agencies, according to the safety commission.

Also, researchers are studying if current methods of testing for marijuana impairment and whether the current legal limit of THC in a person’s system is an accurate assessment of impairment.

From a traffic safety standpoint, the state wasn’t ready for the legalization of recreational marijuana, said Nathan Weller, a Pullman-based consultant helping Washington State University with a marijuana-impairment study.

“The amount of challenges that went along with it was unknown at the time (of voter approval) and now we’re playing catch-up,” he said.

Data shortfall

The Yakima Police Department has seen the number of DUIs creep up since pot was legalized, from 296 in 2012 compared with 331 in 2016. But like so many other agencies, it doesn’t track what substance caused the impairment.

State lawmakers would have to mandate such a tracking system before departments would take on that responsibility, said Debbie Stadler with the department’s records office.

Assessing whether a driver is impaired by marijuana often is difficult, let alone establishing a tracking system, said Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic.

Unlike alcohol, marijuana is stored in a person’s fatty tissue, which can cause a regular user to test for high concentrations in their system without being high at the time.

On the flip side, a driver could be high on pot by ingesting it without noticeable signs of impairment, Brusic said, all factors that can make it difficult to prove marijuana use as the cause of a particular incident.

“In my opinion, we may never get to the point where we can track it like alcohol,” he said.

Sobriety tests

Most officers use a standard field sobriety test that initially focuses on impairment rather than determining whether a driver is over the legal limit, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Brandon Villanti, who works in the impaired driving unit in Seattle.

“We look for impairment and inability to provide attention, motor skills, ability to operate a motor vehicle,” he said. “So our officers are not making an arrest on legal limit but on impairment, and that is confirmed with a blood or breath test.”

But those tests may not be adequate considering the variables of involving marijuana intoxication. Eating pot products can take one to five hours before the peak affect kicks in, compared to the more immediate affect produced by smoking it. That can make it difficult to determine the level of impairment at the time of an accident, Weller said.

For example, someone who smoked it may have a low level of THC in their blood an hour later even though they were high when they were driving, he said.

A person who ingests pot may not have been high at the time of driving but later test positive at a police station, Weller said.

And pot is hard for users to regulate compared with alcohol. For many people it’s safe to drive one hour after a drink, two hours after two drinks, and so on because the amount of alcohol in each drink is regulated.

But quantifying the amount of THC in products isn’t as easy, Weller said.

Participants described getting higher off some products that claimed to have lower THC concentrations than others, he said.

“It’s a rabbit hole right now,” Weller said. “We’re just scratching the surface.”

Researchers in the WSU study are working on developing a Breathalyzer similar to ones used to detect alcohol, he said.

Similar work is being done in Colorado, where fatal crashes involving marijuana have shot up since legalization there in 2012.

Villanti said there are times when a blood test may not reveal the impairment an officer sees on the road. Depending on the case, a drug recognition expert may be brought in to investigate. There are 200 recognition experts in the state who can not only identify a substance of drug but calculate what a person’s level of intoxication was hours before a test, he said.

Experts are usually brought in to investigate serious injury crashes. Villanti said.

“If it’s a vehicular homicide, I think we’re definitely going to put in the resources needed to prosecute,” he said.


Published at