COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As Ohio voters cast their ballots for the Nov. 7 election, polls are showing a majority of those voters support Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.
Proponents of Issue 2 say regulating the substance will make it safer to use, while opponents are concerned about the safety risks of widespread use.
Relative to substances like alcohol, less is known about marijuana’s effect on the brain and body because it remains illegal on the federal level and hasn’t been studied as much as alcohol.
As more states legalize recreational use for adults, more information is emerging about how THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, can affect driving.
“People that use marijuana– over 50% of them think that it doesn’t affect driving, whereas 86% of the regular population does think it impairs driving,” said Dr. Brad Lander, a psychologist specializing in addiction medicine at OSU Wexner Medical Center. “Most people that are using marijuana really don’t know what … the effects are.”
Lander said factors like age, Body Mass Index and genetics can cause the effects of THC to vary person to person, but research consistently shows that it can influence driving.
“Primarily, it reduces reaction time and impairs coordination. But in addition to that, it reduces attention span, alertness, and even causes time and space distortion,” Lander said. “Whether you believe it’s — you know, a good thing or not, I think it’s just like anything else. You need to be aware of what the potential consequences are.”
A 2020 study of fatal traffic accidents found that marijuana use increased the likelihood of a deadly car crash by 1.5 times compared to driving sober. Driving under the influence of alcohol increased the likelihood fivefold, and driving with both alcohol and THC in the system made a deadly crash nearly seven times more likely.
“Marijuana is an impairing substance,” said Lt. Nathan Dennis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “As a result of that, somebody who is utilizing marijuana and is stopped by law enforcement officers are facing– you could face the potential of being arrested for an OVI.”
Dennis said troopers are already trained to look for marijuana impairment on the road, as the substance is currently legal for adults with a prescription for certain medical conditions. But unlike blood alcohol content, there is no field test to determine how much THC is in the system.
Dennis said drivers under suspicion of marijuana impairment are arrested and given a urine test at the jail.
“Consumers need to be responsible when they’re consuming anything that has an intoxicating effect, whether it be alcohol or cannabis,” said Jason Erkes, a spokesman for Cresco Labs, which grows, processes and sells marijuana in Ohio and eight other states. “We hope that consumers, just like patients across the state of Ohio, act in a responsible manner.”
The Cresco Labs facility in Yellow Springs operates under high levels of security and regulation. Marijuana plants are cloned and meticulously cultivated in organic, sanitary conditions (employees wear personal protective equipment from head-to-toe). The facility conducts its own testing on products to ensure that they consistently comply with their own quality metrics as well as state laws.
Erkes said regulating the growth and distribution of marijuana, instead of banning it, will ultimately make the substance safer and its effects on the body more predictable.
“Products are sold in child safety packaging, they’re (sold) age-gated at dispensaries to make sure they don’t get in the hands of anyone under the age of 21,” Erkes said. “There’s a lot of safety protocols that are put in place, but there’s also things — always things, you know — that you can look at to try and do it better.”
Erkes said Cresco Labs complies with the regulations for each of the nine states in which it operates and will adapt to any changes that might come to Ohio’s policies.
“There’ll be new rules that are put in place for recreational products and manufacturing, but we assume that they’ll be pretty similar to what we do now,” Erkes said.