A Majority of Consumers Don't Think Cannabis Impairs Their Driving

Most people know that to consume alcohol and then get behind the wheel of a car is very dangerous — not just for the driver and passengers, but for anyone else sharing the road. For cannabis consumers, however, understanding levels of impairment is not so straightforward. 

To date, there is not yet a technology used by law enforcement that can accurately detect cannabis impairment similar to alcohol breathalyzers. Two companies, Oakland-based Hound Labs and British Columbia, Canada-based Cannabix Technologies, Inc. are working to develop devices that can detect a window of impairment for cannabis consumers. 

Until then, standardized field sobriety tests are the only reliable method to evaluate cannabis impairment behind the wheel. And the fallout from a marijuana DUI — which may include fines, license suspension, and even jail time — can be very disruptive and expensive, just like with alcohol.

There have been several studies with mixed results investigating the dangers of drug-impaired driving. And while a 2018 study showed that drugs like cannabis and opioids are being detected more frequently in drivers who cause fatal crashes, it also acknowledged that the effects of both substances on driving are not well understood. 

Working to close this knowledge gap is San Francisco-based Eaze, an online technology platform and cannabis marketplace known best for facilitating online and on-demand cannabis delivery. As part of its Eaze Insights program, the firm just released the results of a cannabis consumer survey titled “Perceptions on Driving Impairment: Cannabis Consumers in Focus.” 

Comprised of 527 online surveys from licensed California drivers ages 18 and older who had consumed cannabis within 30 days and who drive at least once a year, the findings cast light on the driving behavior of cannabis consumers, highlighting a growing need for awareness and  education. 

Here are some key takeaways: 

  • Eighty-one percent of Californians know driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal, while 62 percent don’t know the penalties for cannabis-impaired driving.
  • There is little consumer consensus about how much cannabis is ”safe” to consume, or how long to wait after cannabis consumption before driving.
  • Among surveyed adults, 77 percent believe that cannabis does not affect their driving ability, while 16 percent believe that cannabis consumption improves their driving.
  • Driving is the most common form of transportation used when going to buy cannabis and immediately after consumption. Nearly a quarter of those who travel (by car) to purchase cannabis typically consume before reaching home.
  • Around half of consumers reported being likely to drive after consumption if they were alone or had adult passengers in the car.
  • Having minors in the car markedly changed post-consumption behavior; only 19 percent of consumers said they would drive if they had a child passenger.
  • Women, adults ages 35 and older, and suburban drivers wait longer on average to drive after consumption than men, adults ages 18-34, and urban drivers.

The study, commissioned by Eaze in partnership with rideshare company Lyft, and undertaken by an outside firm, also found that 77 percent of respondents said they would not drive after consuming cannabis if safe, on-demand ride shares were readily available. Meanwhile, 68 percent said they would not drive under the influence if quick cannabis delivery was an option.

“This report is unique," Elizabeth Ashford, senior director of communications for Eaze, told Civilized. "Many entities look at impaired driving, [but] what makes this report unique is that it speaks to the motivations on the part of consumers, and it’s an important ingredient to understand motivation.”

The firm believes that state and local health agencies are the most trusted source of cannabis safety information, so Ashford was pleased to point out that on July 11, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law S.B. 36, which allows for the first time research to be conducted on driving under the influence of cannabis and other substances on CHP (California Highway Patrol) property. 

Eaze CEO Jim Patterson said in a press release that he hopes the study provides consumers, policymakers, and public safety officials insights that increase road safety. Moving forward, Eaze will include safe driving messaging on every customer receipt, and provide the report’s data to both the Governor’s office and CHP to support research efforts to reduce impaired driving. 

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I've been covering cannabis for nearly five years, and by now I'm all too accustomed to the impersonal cannabis conference at a stuffy, generic hotel or expo hall, brimming with white guys in suits, and generally lacking in the spirit of well, cannabis. (The woes of legalization, I suppose.) So it was a breath of fresh air when I walked into what felt like a giant atrium in downtown LA for a new kind of cannabis conference. Located in what's called the Valentine Grass Room in an industrial area past the hustle and bustle of the DTLA skyscrapers, Microscopes & Machines (M&M) boasted a diverse array of speakers, from doctors and lawyers to chemists and cultivators on the frontlines of the cannabis industry.

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