By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
August 5, 2022
A North Carolina bill that would legalize medical marijuana may face an uphill battle in the state House of Representatives, but opponents are rallying allies — and raising the issue of road safety — in hopes of defeating it if it does come up for a vote.
The bill, SB 711, passed the state Senate on third reading 36-7 in June but never received a floor vote in the House, where Speaker Tim Moore opposes it and said it is unlikely to be considered this year. Gov. Roy Cooper has said he supports the legalization of medical marijuana.
The bill would allow the state to issue licenses to individuals and businesses in order to grow, cultivate, produce and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Supporters call it the “North Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” yet critics say the name is misleading due to the negative impact it could have on the state.
A 2019 study from the University of Michigan Addiction Center found that 56 percent of medical marijuana users reported driving within two hours of using the substance. About half (51 percent) of medical marijuana users said they drove while a “little high” and 21 percent reported driving while “very high.” The report surveyed 790 Michigan medical marijuana users.
“What happened with Michigan’s medical marijuana users is a warning light for North Carolina and other states considering marijuana legalization. Many medical marijuana users will get on the road impaired, and endanger others. This is inevitable,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “We are not prepared for dealing with this on our highways.”
Erin E. Bonar, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and the lead author of the study, said the findings are troubling.
Unlike with alcohol impairment, she said, scientists are not yet able to easily judge whether a marijuana user is too high to drive.
“When it comes to driving, we haven’t yet figured out the best way to know how impaired marijuana users are at any given time,” she said. “With alcohol, you can do some quick math based on the amount you drank, and take an educated guess at your blood alcohol level. For marijuana, an estimate like this would be complicated. It’s hard to quantify because there is a lot of variation in marijuana dosing, THC potency, and route of administration. We also don’t have specific guidelines yet about when exactly it would be safe to operate a vehicle.”
In other states, marijuana legalization has led to deadly consequences. In 2012, an impaired marijuana user got behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Camaro in South Euclid, Ohio, and ran a red light, slamming into the car of 22-year-old Jennifer Corinne Hrobuchak. She died instantly.
Her mother, Corrine Gasper, wants her story to be known nationwide. Hrobuchak was an honor student and had earned a lacrosse scholarship.
“A man … was racing through the other side going through a red light at 82 miles an hour, T-boning my daughter’s car,” Gasper said.
The police officer on the scene said he “could smell marijuana,” in the other car, Gasper said. The officer also found marijuana paraphernalia in the car.
Gasper has concerns about the nationwide trend to legalize marijuana.
“The cart [is] before the horse here,” she said. “There’s not enough legislation about driving high, there’s not enough ways to detect it.”
A website was set up to tell the story of Jennifer and others like her who have died at the hands of marijuana users who drive: JennifersMessengers.org.
“Let me ask a pointed question. When people talk about legalizing marijuana as freedom, whose freedom are they talking about? Are they just talking about the freedom of a medical marijuana patient to smoke weed? Or are they talking about the freedom of some family member to carry on life with their spouse or child?” asked Rev. Creech. “Where’s the wife’s freedom to kiss her husband when he arrives home from work. Where is a mother’s freedom to call her daughter on the telephone and spend the day shopping with her? No, that freedom will be gone forever because it was taken away by a medical marijuana patient who was stoned while driving.”
Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Health, told CBS that marijuana legislation has leaped ahead of the science.
“Essentially politicians have voted that this should be a legal medical therapy and we don’t have data from rigorous scientific studies to define what the safety is,” Devinsky said.
Bonar, the University of Michigan professor, agreed.
“We believe more research is needed to inform a larger public education effort that will help individuals understand the risks for themselves, and others, of driving while under the influence of cannabis,” Bonar said. “It is especially needed during this time of rapid policy change as many states are determining how to manage marijuana legalization. We also need clearer guidelines about marijuana dosing and side effects with an understanding of how individual differences in things like sex and body weight interact as well.”