The Perils of Pot

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Imagine this typical scene with drivers impaired by pot.

One of the frequent rants that I see among my Facebook acquaintances is against fellow motorists who “drive crazy”. A new school year brought many such complaints as parents were concerned about the safety of their children who were being dropped off at school amidst the “Indy 500” of careless driving.

Imagine that we start to add marijuana to this mix. Currently there are hearings in New York State to consider whether recreational marijuana use ought to be legalized and among the reasons I believe we ought to not go down that road is because we’ll be going down a road where there’ll be an increase of impaired drivers. I presume there’ll be new statutes against driving while under the influence of pot, just as there are statutes against driving drunk. Blood alcohol limits can be tested when a person is suspected of being inebriated, but as of yet there are no field tests for the presence of pot in a person’s blood stream. And we know that laws against driving while drunk are broken daily — sometimes with deadly results. So even future pot-tests won’t deter people who choose to toke and drive.

While laws that prohibit the use of recreational marijuana aren’t currently stopping people from driving under the influence of pot, its legalization will most likely increase the number of users and drivers who are using. Some people who would never think of buying pot today, will avail themselves of this drug if it becomes legal. New unintended negative consequences will follow.

I’m not in favor of criminalizing marijuana use. To jail people who use pot will harm them and their families more than the marijuana itself, and is a waste of taxpayer money. But to make it legal and universally available will lead to an increase the number of people who will drive under the influence, parent under the influence, do surgery under the influence, do construction under the influence, coach under the influence, etc. If people are complaining about the lack of good judgment in their fellow drivers today, driving in the years ahead will be more scary if people are impaired by cannabis.

I suspect that recreational marijuana use will be legalized because the lure of tax income is great. States that have legalized marijuana are seeing their coffers swell with pot-related sales tax. Taxes are a drug too tempting to abstain from. Of course taxes are necessary to provide for the services that we expect. But the true cost of the pot-taxes will remain hidden and only revealed to individual families whose lives will be affected by one more drug that leads to unfortunate consequences.

Perhaps some of my readers enjoyed a puff or two in earlier years of their lives (whether they inhaled or not). And because they came through that phase of their life unscathed, they might consider recreational marijuana use to be mostly harmless. Suppose they are right about that. “Mostly harmless” isn’t a good enough argument to give state approval to something that is actually somewhat not harmless. I don’t believe we’ll benefit as a community by adding another mind altering drug to the mix of our daily lives.

And it’s certainly not going to make our driving any better.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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