NMDOT hosts Cannabis Traffic Safety Summit on 4/20

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s first-ever Cannabis Traffic Safety Summit was held Thursday morning.

“What we’re trying to accomplish today is really bringing stakeholders together throughout the traffic safety sector, policymakers, as well as the cannabis industry,” said Jeff Barela, traffic safety director with the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

“Drugs and alcohol are always the number one most commonly reported factor in fatal crashes,” said Jessica Bloom, a research scientist with UNM.

Bloom has been keeping track of the limited data New Mexico has on cannabis-involved crashes.

“The state only really has cannabis-specific data for people who are killed in crashes,” she said.

Data shows an overall increase in deadly crashes between 2018 and 2021. 71 driving deaths in 2021 involved cannabis.

“Out of all the motor vehicle drivers killed in crashes in New Mexico, about 16% of them have been testing positive for cannabis,” Bloom said.

However, cannabis-involved crashes doesn’t necessarily mean impaired – because the substance can remain in your system long after the effects wear off.

“There’s not a good way to chemically test for cannabis impairment,” said Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t think there ever will be, and I think that’s why it’s really important for the state to invest in drug recognition experts.”

Researchers admit there is still a lot they don’t know about the connection between cannabis and crashes.

“I can’t actually tell you the number of victims in crashes involving cannabis,” Bloom said. “We don’t always get to the toxicology data on the surviving drivers.”

That’s why the summit itself is important.

“We don’t know what law enforcement needs,” Barela said. “We don’t know what traffic safety needs. We don’t know what the lawmakers need in order to actually implement programs that are surrounded, or that are driven by cannabis-impaired driving.”