One of the committees I serve on is Transportation.
Previously the legislature passed laws addressing distracted driving, primarily addressing the use of electronic devices while driving. Quite simply the biggest complaint had, and continues to be, texting and driving. Some would argue we did not go far enough with this legislation and we should only allow “hands-free” use of electronic devices. Public safety officials from across the State are asking for more restrictions based on the number of fatal accident investigations they conduct annually. Legislation has been proposed this year for “hands-free” and I am interested in receiving feedback from constituents.
An increasing concern is impaired driving. Traditionally impaired driving has primarily occurred as a result of excessive use of alcohol. This week Legislators received an informational update document from the American Automobile Association, a long-time national organization. I’ve included an excerpt below from one of their updates. With the law changes in Illinois regarding recreational marijuana, there is heightened concern by Iowa law enforcement the amount of impaired driving fatal accidents will increase in eastern Iowa as well.
“In Fatal Crashes, Percentage of Drivers Testing Positive for Recent Use of Marijuana Doubles After Drug is Legalized
The state of Washington offers a revealing case study about what can happen when recreational marijuana use is legalized. Since lawmakers there took that step in late 2012, the state has seen a sharp increase in the percentage of drivers who, after a fatal crash, test positive for active THC – the drug’s main psychoactive ingredient.
In the five years before the drug was legalized, an estimated 8.8% of drivers involved in fatal wrecks were positive for THC, according to researchers with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. In the five years after the drug became legal that rate rose to 18%. The average number of THC-positive drivers went up, too. In the five years before legalization, about 56 drivers involved in fatal wrecks were THC-positive annually. In the five years after, the number more than doubled to 130. AAA believes this trend raises serious traffic safety concerns.
Washington is one of 11 states – and the District of Columbia – that have legalized recreational marijuana. Twenty-two states permit medical use, and 17 states prohibit all use. In an attempt to curb drug-impaired driving, seven states have set legal limits on the number of active THC drivers can have in their system. But, those limits aren’t necessarily valid because the behavioral effects of active THC vary so much by the individual.
Last year, a Foundation survey found that nearly 70% of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving shortly after using marijuana. The survey also revealed that an estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
AAA is committed to educating the public about the risks of substance-impaired driving. Through AAA Foundation research, AAA is working to improve understanding on the topic and is working collaboratively with safety stakeholders to reduce the impact of substance-impaired driving-related crashes.”
To read the full story from AAA, click here.
In Public Safety Committee, we are looking at tightening the new hemp law. Last year, the Legislature began the process of allowing hemp to be grown and sold in Iowa. Countless hours have been spent on legislation and rules to ensure Iowa is following federal law. With proper licensing, some Iowa farmers will be able to grow and harvest hemp and some hemp products will be allowed to be sold in the state. The House Public Safety Committee has been evaluating issues that may arise as the program develops. As with any new program, there are issues that still need to be resolved. One of those is the problem with smokable hemp. HSB 572 was drafted by the Public Safety Committee in an effort to ban smokable hemp and ensure law enforcement can differentiate between legal hemp products and illegal marijuana products.
In most cases, hemp is not actually smoked, but hemp and marijuana can’t be differentiated by sight, smell, or even roadside tests. Special equipment is used to evaluate if the product has less than 0.3% THC, which determines if it is hemp or marijuana. If smokable hemp is not prohibited, there will be trouble prosecuting illegal marijuana possession and large backlogs in the DCI crime lab as experts work to determine THC content.
The bill has advanced out of subcommittee and my colleagues are carefully evaluating any unforeseen consequences with this proposal. During the next several weeks, we will meet with the Office of Drug Control Policy, Department of Public Safety, IDALS and others who are involved with drug and hemp laws.