Know what you are voting for in cannabis referendum

A week out from the general election the Road Transport Forum (RTF) has made its final plea for people to be informed before stepping into the ballot box to vote on the cannabis referendum.

I spoke about some of the unintended consequences of legalising recreational cannabis for safety sensitive industries at a road freight transport industry breakfast event in Auckland yesterday titled, Clear the Haze.

I want to be very clear; the RTF is not telling people how to vote. We are posing questions that we believe need to be asked and we are putting the interests of the road freight transport industry up front. Those interests are safety and a desire for all truck drivers to go home at the end of every shift.

Our concern about the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill Exposure Draft for Referendum centres around the impacts on workplace health and safety and the costs and liabilities that go with increasing risk in the workplace.

While employers can drug test professional drivers, those drivers share the road with all other road users who are not subject to that scrutiny. Poor decisions by those other road users could have bad consequences. When a cyclist, motorcyclist, or car connects with a 50 tonne truck, they come off second best. The truck driver might have done nothing wrong, but they have to live with the trauma of the outcome.

It is well recognised that cannabis causes impairment and judging that impairment for road users is an issue that has yet to be resolved. A new law was introduced just prior to Parliament dissolving for the general election. If passed, the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill will allow Police to roadside test drivers to see if they are under the influence of drugs, just as they do for alcohol. The RTF has lobbied hard for roadside drug testing and we will continue to push for this as this Bill progresses through the Parliamentary process once the election is over.

Because it’s election time, those for and against legalising recreational cannabis throw up all manner of research to back their case. We suggest establishing the veracity of research before taking it as gospel, and certainly challenging claims that legalising cannabis will reduce use and cut out the illegal trade.

We’ve looked at research by global company Deloitte in Canada, which has adopted country-wide legalisation of recreational cannabis, similar to what is being proposed in New Zealand. It suggests increased (up 22 percent), rather than reduced use – let’s face it, shops open to market their wares, not to have no customers; and that those on lower incomes and with less education tend to continue to buy from their illegal channels.

We’ve also looked at insurance data from the USA, where some states have legalised marijuana. We trust insurance data because it works on a risk-based model and the level of risk determines the price of insurance. Higher risk, higher liability, higher insurance, higher costs – everything goes high!

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) in February 2019 reported that crashes are six percent higher in states that legalised marijuana compared to four neighbouring states where marijuana is not legal. IIHS found that drivers are largely unaware of the risks of using marijuana while driving.

Of course, this research only relates to accidents on the road, not accidents that may occur at the depot, yard or workplace as a result of impairment. And all the experts agree more research is needed. But what is clear is there is good research that points to increased use when recreational cannabis is legalised; the illegal market remaining in play; and impairment on the road leading to more crashes.

All risks have costs and we can only see legalised recreational cannabis adding to business costs in the road freight transport industry. As practically everything is carried on the back of a truck at some point of the supply chain, those costs will work their way down to the end consumer.

But the greatest cost we want to avoid is more fatal accidents on New Zealand roads as a result of drug driving.

So, know what you are voting for.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum


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