While I’ve been conducting an extensive amount of research for my series on the morality of cannabis investing, I’ve been continually amazed by the sheer number of names that a single plant can be called.
Marijuana, weed, and pot are by far the most common, but the list of terms describing cannabis goes on and on…
Our parents or grandparents might be more familiar with some of the older nicknames like muggle or reefer (from the iconic anti-marijuana propaganda film of the 1930s, Reefer Madness). Some of the more modern slang terms include sticky, chronic, and ganja.
Still other names (mostly names of specific strains) focus on illustrating the effects that the drug has on the user, such as:
- Laughing Buddha
- Cannatonic (a play on the catatonic state it puts the user in)
And it’s those effects of marijuana that I want to begin focusing on today. No review on the morality of cannabis investing would be complete without a thorough look into the inebriating effects that cannabis has on its users, and the dangers and problems that it can cause.
Opponents of cannabis legalization often point to the intoxicating effects of the drug as a big reason why it should not be legal and readily available. People on that side of the fence would likely be big fans of the cannabis nickname (perhaps the most hilarious one I’ve come across), The Devil’s Lettuce.
By whatever name marijuana goes, it does have a psychoactive component in delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and that chemical causes motor skill and cognitive impairment. The next two articles in our series on the morality of investing in pot stocks will look at the safety issues and societal costs of impaired driving. This is such an important (and interesting) part of the equation, we’ll take a look at this issue in two parts – the first will look at impaired driving from an enforcement perspective – the second will review the data about how legalization has changed driving safety and arrests.
But first, let’s step back and look at how all this digging will lead us to a conclusion on the morality of pot investing. My goal is to take a balanced look at all of the issues we’ve outlined in earlier articles and weigh the societal costs vs. the societal benefits.
An overlay of spiritual and philosophical issues will round out the discussion and help us draw some conclusions.
THC Impaired Driving – A Tangled Mess of a Problem to Measure
In our next article, we’ll look at all the issues that complicate attempts to measure the effects of pot legalization on traffic safety. Today, we’ll talk about actual impairment and get some interesting insights from someone on the frontline of impairment enforcement.
There is no doubt that using pot affects driver capabilities. Driver simulator studies and real-life experience confirm this. A National Institute of Health (NIH) paper titled Cannabis Effects on Driving Skills summarizes their findings this way:
“Evidence suggests recent smoking and/or blood THC concentrations 2-5 ng/mL are associated with substantial driving impairment, particularly in occasional smokers.”
But there are many confounding issues. Here are a few of them:
- THC levels remain elevated in the blood for days or longer, while impairment levels peak hours after initial use
- Alcohol use mixed with THC has a multiplicative effect on impairment. Simulator studies show that subjects with blood levels above zero, but below legal limits of both alcohol and THC at the same time, show impairment levels equal to or above the impairment levels of subjects with only one impairing substance above legal limits.
- Studies show how difficult it is to delink alcohol and THC, since most studies show that a majority of pot users (65% in one single-state study) simultaneously consumed alcohol.
- Alcohol levels and the influence on impairment are well known. THC levels relative to impairment are much more subjective due to the issues mentioned in bullets above, and because effects vary by tolerance levels and other individualized issues much more than do alcohol.
There are more issues that cloud the picture, but in my research it’s pretty easy to summarize that the truth in impairment lies somewhere between the pro-legalization lobby’s claim of little-to-no effect, and the harshest critics’ claims of impairment equal to or worse than alcohol.
Bottom line: THC consumption clearly impairs driving, and needs to be controlled. The “how” of that enforcement is very complex. In fact, states have different current enforcement rules. Here’s a great map from the National Conference of State Legislatures that shows the driving laws:
Click to Enlarge
For some “boots on the ground” insight, I went to the police department in my local college town. Having a large university here (24,000 students), I correctly surmised that the local police had lots of experience with pot impaired driving.
And I hit the information jackpot when I got to talk with the coordinator of Delaware’s Drug Recognition Officers, Lt. Andrew Rubin. In 2017, Lt. Rubin won the Excellence in Impaired Driving Prevention Leadership and Education Award in the state of Delaware. He provided me the benefit of his wealth of knowledge and experience, and gave me some welcomed insights into the issues that officers must deal with every day in impairment enforcement.
You may have noticed that I live in a “zero tolerance” state as shown above, but the enforcement issues here are a good foundation for what officers throughout the country deal with.
To keep this from being an article that takes more than our allotted 10 minutes to read, I will summarize my key takeaways from my conversation with Lt. Rubin in bullet form:
- Most important takeaway: Traffic stops that involve a potential drug-based impairment (as contrasted to alcohol impairment stops) take significantly longer than an alcohol impairment case. While most alcohol-related stops can be handled in less than an hour, drug-related stops can take three hours or more.
- Here’s why: An officer takes any driver the exhibits impaired driving through a field sobriety test. When the results of that examination lead to suspected drug use, in Delaware, the officer must call in a qualified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to assess if further steps must be taken. The DRE uses standardized field tests involving eye signs, vital signs, muscle tests (among others) to make this assessment. Why this intermediate step?
- Because the next enforcement step is lengthy and costly. A blood sample has to be drawn (requiring the summoning of an on-call phlebotomist) and analyzed by an approved lab before formal charges are made.
- A field test device for THC levels that is similar to the ease of a breathalyzer is not yet available and/or widely approved. Oral fluid devices are starting to make some inroads but are still in the early stages (meaning expensive and not yet universally approved).
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Obviously, states who use “under the influence DUID” rules (the grey states in the map above) may use only field tests. A quick survey shows that most still use blood tests to prove the source of the impairment.
Whew – that’s a lot of stuff to get to morality and investing bottom lines. Here they are:
Bottom Line Morality: Increased weed availability and increased THC impaired driving as a result is a given (those who weakly argue otherwise are just deluded). What affect that has on accident rates is more complicated – more on that next article. The cost/benefit of cannabis legalization will be a negative here. Law enforcement agencies will have to spend more money to keep roads safe when there are more impaired drivers out there.
Bottom Line Investing: This will be one of the few areas where legalization of cannabis gives a direct negative monetary impact. But since it is incremental (we already have officers out there enforcing this) and the cost per incidence will drop over time (perhaps by an order of magnitude as detection technology is improved). So while the impairment issue is a net negative, it will be eventually be much less so.
Please feel free to leave me your comments below. I’d love to know about your own opinion on the matter, any questions you might have, or anything you’d like me to discuss in the future. And stay tuned for my next cannabis morality issue on the effects of pot legalization on traffic safety, where we’ll discuss if The Devil’s Lettuce is creating a Highway to Hell…
Great Trading and God bless you,
D.R. Barton, Jr.