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Cannabis group launches campaign against marijuana-impaired driving

Posted: Oct 19, 2023 / 11:30 PM EDT

Updated: Oct 19, 2023 / 11:36 PM EDT

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– The Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) is making new efforts to warn people about the dangers of driving while high.

The authority rolled out its Safe Driving Campaign to increase awareness of the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis — and to highlight the importance of planning for a sober ride.

Last fall, CCA issued a survey to nearly 800 Virginians and collected information about cannabis-use while driving. The findings show several people admitted to driving high a few times or more in the last year and not making plans for a sober ride home.

Brianna Bonat, health policy and data manager for CCA, said the 2022 survey data is concerning.

“30% of Virginians think that using cannabis while driving makes driving safe,” she said. “People aren’t perceiving cannabis use while driving as something to be alarmed by or something that causes impairment.”

Almost 1/3 of respondents falsely believe marijuana usually makes drivers safer, according to Bonat.

The survey also showed just 26% of Virginians saw marijuana-impaired driving as extremely dangerous, but that’s a much lower response rate compared to other risky behaviors, like texting or drinking alcohol while driving.

Bonat said the legalization of medical marijuana may have reduced the perception of risk.

“That created some alarming data points for us,” she said of the survey.

Virginia State Police’s Crime of Virginia 2022 report shows there were 1,560 arrests for marijuana violations, including dozens for driving under the influence.

That number is about a 37% decline from 2021, when possession and personal use of cannabis became legal in Virginia.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also updated crime statistics in their database, which includes data tracked by hundreds of law enforcements agents across Virginia. It reveals a downward trend of marijuana-related arrests, too.

“The good news is that the numbers in both reports show us that marijuana arrests in Virginia continue their downward trend,” JM Pedini, the executive director of Virginia National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said. “This lets us know that Virginia’s marijuana legalization law that was enacted in 2021 is operating exactly as legislators intended.”

Pedini said we can expect the number of arrests to continue to go down.

“We can expect post legalization for marijuana arrests to decrease by about 90% and that’s exactly what we have seen happen in the Commonwealth,” they said.

CCA rolled out its Safe Driving Campaign by putting up billboard and digital advertisements, as well as radio and television public service announcements, to educate the public.

It also includes a social media campaign and partnership efforts with other Virginia organizations and businesses to inform Virginians of the risks of driving while high.

The ads target recreational and medical consumers, parents, and friends of consumers.


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