In early June, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado vetoed a bill that would have allowed for marijuana sampling at dispensaries.

House Bill 1258 would have authorized “each licensed medical marijuana center or retail marijuana store to establish one retail marijuana accessory consumption establishment…that may sell marijuana…products for consumption, other than smoking, at the establishment.”

Increase in impaired driving

After the bill passed both legislative houses and reached Hickenlooper’s desk, he issued a letter explaining his reasons for the veto. The letter reads: “We are concerned that marijuana use at consumption establishments could result in additional impaired or intoxicated drivers on our roadways. The State has dedicated significant resources to discourage impaired driving and make our roads safer. But we must do more. It is evident that public attitudes on driving under the influence of marijuana are much more relaxed than attitudes around driving under the influence of alcohol.” The letter goes on to state that a public survey “revealed that too many” marijuana users “feel it is safe to drive after using marijuana” and that “By allowing consumption at marijuana establishments, HB 18-1258 sends the wrong message by permitting people to consume marijuana in a public setting; a practice that may increase the number of impaired drivers on our roadways.”

The letter concludes: “In this experiment of recreational marijuana legalization, we established and continue to improve a robust regulatory framework….We encourage the General Assembly to proceed cautiously…ensuring that public safety is paramount.” The bill did include public education provisions about the dangers of driving while impaired.

A quick search of the website for the city of Denver yields 1,000 results for establishments selling alcohol, many of which are not bars that allow on-site consumption. (These include grocery and convenience stores, for example.)

Impact of cannabis smoking on driving

In a study published in 1995 in the Journal of Safety Research, the authors report on “the effects of marijuana smoking on actual driving performance.” The study’s abstract concludes: “Marijuana, when taken alone, produces a moderate degree of driving impairment which is related to the consumed THC dose. The impairment manifests itself mainly in the ability to maintain a steady lateral position on the road, but its magnitude is not exceptional in comparison with changes produced by many medicinal drugs and alcohol. Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate where they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence, THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”

Another study published in the American Journal of Addiction reports that “Epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents.” The study also concludes that “the risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone.”

Colorado’s adult-use marijuana laws are among the nation’s most liberal, and caution is never a bad idea in the context of the operation of heavy machinery. (As the article in the American Journal of Addiction points out, “Accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in the US; nearly half are motor vehicle accidents.”) However, as more studies are made of how much marijuana impairs driving and how impaired driving can best be prevented, it may happen someday that people in Colorado will be allowed to consume marijuana in establishments similar to bars.

What do you think? Will on-site tasting ever become legal? Leave a comment below.

state marijuana laws