Another Thought on Cannabis and Driving

Jonas Agwu

He left the shores of our land at the tender age of 22. His departure was dramatic as it was emotional. Dad, mother, siblings were all the dramatis personae in the mild drama that took place at the departure hall of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja. Emotions, tears, hugs and reluctant goodbyes and farewell filled the atmosphere.

At last, the sweet voice of a female announcer interrupted the drama. He had to manage a deep hug to bid his mother farewell. His dad shrugged off his ego and pride and wiped off tears to hug his only son who was on his way to the United States of America to set the tone for his dream career.

Kennedy was the only son out of five siblings. Light complexioned and brilliant. Ken, as he was called by his loved parents, departed the shores of Nigeria in pursuit of his dream to become a medical doctor. In school, he was admired by all and sundry for his academic brilliance and his cute look that startled most single ladies on campus. Happy, intelligent, friendly, caring, nice and loving boy was how his parents described him.

After graduation, his parents who loved him to a fault pleaded for him to return to the motherland and set up his own clinic. Ken declined their offer. Even the promise by his wealthy parents to build a befitting structure for his clinic at a place of his choice did not bulge him. Reluctantly, his parents gave in to his demands.

On his 30th birthday, Ken’s parents paid him a surprise visit. The surprise visit was quite elating to Ken who thought his refusal to relocate back to Nigeria on the wish of his loving parents would create a bit of friction between him and the loving and caring parents. Unknown to Ken, the visit was not the only surprise package.

On the day of their departure, they tricked Ken to accompany them to a shopping mall that turned out to be a befitting property bought and furnished for his medical practice in the United States. The young man’s joy knew no bounds as this gift was a realization of his desire to partner with his American wife, who incidentally is also a medical doctor.

Before bidding them farewell and journey mercies, Ken who is as the mother’s favorite made a shocking request. He pleaded with his parents not to visit the US for the next two years to enable him to set up,grow and expand his medical practice before their next visit. They agreed and promised not realizing that would be the last time they would see him alive. 

On his 32nd birthday, Ken finished his usual supervision of the clinic and was driving home when a crash occurred involving Ken and a drunk driver who fell asleep at the wheel while speeding on the highway and rammed into his son’s car

The drunk driver according to reports fell asleep while speeding on the highway, jumped his lane in the opposite direction and hit Ken’s car with speed force on the driver’s side.Ken died on the way to the hospital.

As I wrote, impaired driving, whether it involves alcohol, cannabis, other drugs or a combination of substances, is wreaking havoc on our nation’s roads, and we all must respond quickly and effectively,” said Darrin Grondel, director of Nasid in America. The bottom line is that legalising cannabis does not make it safe to consume and drive which is a message all authorities can get behind. This is so long as it is presented in the right way.

So, what should the authorities say? Campaigns should be factual and tested with focus groups. Fear, shame and humor don’t work. Rather it is appropriate for messages that are straightforward and truthful about the consequences of cannabis use and driving. We must note that community-based messengers tend to be more trusted than government representatives which underscores our use of celebrities in Nigeria.

The report counsels never to stereotype or ridicule cannabis consumers. Primary campaign focus should be that cannabis-impaired driving is illegal in every state. Although people may believe that cannabis has no effect on driving or even that it improves driving skills, nevertheless, this myth must be dispelled.

I know I wrote recently on a piece I titled, Cannabis and Driving Don’t Mix. I have chosen to run a snippet of that piece where I noted that although I never really smoked, I however, became a fan of St Moritz which was my anger management pastime while in School. I am relieving this experience because of a write-up on cannabis and driving, I stumbled.

 I have captured part of the piece and would love to conclude the other parts for your delight with the hope that those who indulge in cannabis, or other sorts of alcoholic and drug lifestyle as inducements to stay alert while on the wheels would have a rethink.

 The piece I am sharing was authored by Adams Hill. According to him, increased   legal cannabis use has created increased illegal use by drivers. Please enjoy Adams position and counsel to authorities such as the Federal Road Safety Corps operatives whose duty is to checkmate these vices. Adams title is Cannabis and Cars don’t mix although I chose Cannabis and driving don’t mix.

Adams notes that “there have been long medical and social arguments for the legalisation of cannabis. Now that it is permitted for personal use in about 18 US states with more expected elsewhere, the use of pot or weed has moved firmly into the mainstream.

However, with increased usage has come a road safety problem. Information reveals that more drivers involved in fatal crashes in the US tested positive for the drug during the Covid pandemic. This has prompted authorities to issue guidance about safety messaging to drivers who are cannabis users. For one thing, Cannabis Consumers and Safe Driving: Responsible Use Messaging recommends that you don’t use outdated terms like ‘pot’ or ‘weed’ (note to self).

Also, it’s probably best to use the term ‘consumers’ rather than ‘users’. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), and the National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving (Nasid) are behind the report, which is aimed at State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs). Recreational cannabis we must note was legal precisely nowhere in the US before 2011. But with acceptance, comes ubiquity and the report emphasizes the need for effective public outreach and education.

For instance, an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey found that 95percent of people say driving while over the legal blood alcohol concentration limit is very or extremely dangerous, but only 69 percent believe it is dangerous to drive within an hour of consuming cannabis.

“Motorists need to know the dangers of driving under the influence,” said GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins. “But that message won’t be heard if it’s outdated, irrelevant or insulting to cannabis consumers.The report is a ‘playbook’ for states, Adkins says, which allows them to develop messaging that resonates rather than alienates. The central point is that, regardless of the legal status for cannabis use, “cannabis-impaired driving is illegal in every state and should be the primary campaign focus”, the report says. And even if it’s legal in a state, it is always illegal for anyone under 21. To get the safety message across successfully, SHSOs should use focus groups and surveys to find out what language cannabis consumers use to describe the product and its effects.

“Outdated vernacular” is a complete no-no; while “current terminology” is crucial, keeping in mind regional variations; noting that social media is likely to be the main communications platform to reach audiences, who tend to be young and male.

“Some of the earliest errors in communicating the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving occurred when campaigns used unflattering stereotypes of cannabis users,” the report says. “Insulting or judging the target audience rarely improves message reception and turns people off, resulting in the message getting lost.”

The primary focus of information campaigns should be as simple as, ‘’don’t drive after consuming cannabis’’. There is subtlety here too, though, the report suggests: “This is because it is not clear what responsible use of cannabis really is or looks like.The report notes that appeals to moral sensitivity; normative choices that are considered ‘good’ or ‘right’  may have a greater effect on changing behavior than the usual ‘just don’t do it’ messaging.”

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