Will legalising cannabis make Kiwi roads more dangerous?

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Words: Matthew Hansen
21 Sep 2020

One of the biggest questions looming ahead of this year’s New Zealand election is the upcoming cannabis referendum and its pros and cons.

As the Government prepares to increase the amount of breath tests conducted by the police to catch drunk drivers, it’s been asked whether the legalisation of cannabis would make such testing increases all the more imperative.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand (RNZ), University of Otago professor and cannabis panel consultant Joe Boden said that evidence from places where cannabis has been legalised (such as the United States and Canada) does not suggest an increase in road deaths or car crashes.

“In Colorado when cannabis was legalised, they said there was a very large increase in the number of people caught drug driving,” he said. “But what actually happened is, previous to legalisation, [the police] had three mobile units and that increased to 15. So it's sort of like Covid, the more you test the more you find.”

Boden supports a ‘zero tolerance’ stance on drugged driving, adding that the Government should pass a roadside drug testing bill before cannabis is made legal.

“The science behind it isn't remotely settled enough to work out what a safe level of use would be in terms of being behind the wheel of a car,” he added.

“Now we're hamstrung by the fact in many areas such as this, and medicinal cannabis and all of those areas, because it's illegal and you can't actually do the studies, giving them the drug and getting them to perform tasks and those sorts of things.”

AA New Zealand confirmed to RNZ that it did not have a position on whether the cannabis bill should pass or not. The motoring authority is simply calling for more testing to be in place should it pass.

“When you're driving it's about being 100 percent focused and alert and mentally clear so anything that you can do or take that is going to alter your mental state is not a smart thing to be doing before you're getting behind the wheel,” said AA New Zealand’s Dylan Thomsen.



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