Ken Carlson

More car crashes is one possible local effect of legalized marijuana

As the Nov. 8 election approaches, some of the ramifications of initiatives tend to come into sharper focus for voters.

As an example, there’s evidence that legalization of recreational marijuana could raise the risk of getting in a fatal car crash with a stoned driver.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the state of Washington saw a spike in pot-related roadway fatalities after marijuana was legalized there in December 2012.

In the next 12 months, that state had 49 drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. That total more than doubled in 2014, with 106 THC-positive drivers involved in fatal accidents.

California has no standard, as there is for drunken driving, for determining if a driver has an unsafe level of THC in his or her blood. Proposition 64, the initiative on next month’s ballot to legalize marijuana for recreational uses, would provide funding for the California Highway Patrol to come up with enforcement standards.

If Proposition 64 is approved, Stanislaus County leaders will need to make policy on whether to allow marijuana growing or issue licenses for businesses to sell marijuana products. Legalization would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, but the county could continue with its current ban on commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana based on federal law.

“We could have the same level of control over recreational marijuana as we currently have for medical marijuana,” Assistant County Counsel Thomas Boze said. The initiative would not change the Proposition 215 rights for qualified patients to possess and cultivate medical marijuana.

Cities and counties that prohibit cultivation and sale would give up eligibility for law enforcement grants under Proposition 64.

County Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen said it’s possible the federal government could change its policies on marijuana by 2018, which would open the door for recreational pot at the local level.

If the initiative is approved next month, Risen would like to renew Supervisor Vito Chiesa’s short-lived effort last summer for the county and the nine cities to discuss a unified approach to dealing with Proposition 64.

In the past several months, the county has been mostly concerned with policies governing medicinal marijuana. A county-appointed ad hoc committee has talked about granting local access to parents for a marijuana ingredient used to treat seizure disorders in children.

Risen said that parents, medical experts and other committee members are trying to reach an agreement “we all can live with.”

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321