AAA Voices Opposition to Marijuana Legalization in California, Maine

By Paul Gaita 10/10/16

AAA has stated that legalization efforts could lead to "genuine traffic safety concerns."

AAA Voices Opposition to Marijuana Legalization in California, Maine

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has officially stated its opposition to measures for the legalization of recreational marijuana, and has recommended that members in California and Maine vote "no" on such ballot propositions in their states.

In a statement issued by the Automobile Club of Southern California on Oct. 5, the organization referred to legalization efforts like Proposition 64 in California and Question 1 in Maine as “genuine traffic safety concern(s)” that would increase fatal crashes, and cited its own statistics from Washington state, where recreational marijuana as legal, as proof.

According to its data on drug tests and fatal crashes among Washington drivers between 2010 and 2014, 17% of fatal crashes in 2014 involved drivers who had recently used marijuana, more than double the percentage found the previous year. (Washington's recreational marijuana law went into effect in 2013.)

The statement also dismissed “per se” legal blood limits on active-THC, which use a model similar to blood alcohol concentration to determine whether a driver is too impaired to drive. Such limits are currently in place in states like Washington. But AAA’s stance considers these to be “well-intentioned” but ineffective due to a lack of definitive scientific evidence on the specific level of impairment due to active-THC and the lack of a concrete means of determining said levels. 

Proponents of Prop 64, which is backed by former Facebook president Sean Parker and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, claim that the measure comes with both financial and informational safeguards to ensure driver safety. It currently requires an extensive campaign that will inform the public about the dangers of using marijuana while driving, and calls for $3 million a year in research funds for the California Highway Patrol to develop new means of determining if a driver is too impaired from marijuana to operate a vehicle. In addition, Prop 64 seeks to impose greater restriction on obtaining marijuana, especially for children, as well as a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug. 

But these safeguards are seen as insufficient by AAA, according to Kathy Sieck, senior vice president of public affairs for the Auto Club. “Prop 64 is a gamble on the public’s safety, which isn’t a risk worth taking, especially when drug-impaired driving is on the rise,” she said.

AAA’s statement calls for additional research before legislation such as Prop 64 and Question 1 can be considered. “It is worrisome that five states this year, including California, are considering a far-reaching policy change that could have unintended consequences for traffic safety, the emergency medical system, law enforcement and the court,” said Jake Nelson, director of AAA Traffic Safety, Advocacy and Research.

However, California voters appear to be ready to decide on the issue: a new poll by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times found that 58% of voters are in favor of the measure.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.