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Traffic, workplace issues make marijuana legalization problematic

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There's certainly been an increase in "marijuana content" on the pages of The Daily News and other Washington news outlets over the last several months.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the editorialists at the Seattle Times want to legalize and tax it. U.S. Attorneys in Spokane and Seattle remind us from time to time that marijuana remains an illegal, controlled substance under federal law by busting a few state-licensed dispensaries. Medical marijuana users, willing to play by the state's rules, keep bumping up against federal barriers.
State voters will be offered a ballot initiative promoting legalization this fall, but no change in the federal laws is likely.
It's a confusing picture, but we'd like no confusion on one point: our coverage of the news aspects of the story shouldn't be taken as evidence we've changed our editorial position on legalization.
We haven't. We remain opposed, primarily for two reasons:
Driver safety: Marijuana is intoxicating and both users of our roads and police have a legitimate interest in keeping intoxicated drivers off the highways. Unlike alcohol, to which marijuana is often compared, there's no on-the-spot test comparable to the breathalyzer that police can use to determine a suspect's degree of intoxication.
Testing can reveal the presence of marijuana in a subject's blood or urine, but test results are highly problematic in court because they can't, as yet, determine exactly how impaired the subject may have been at the time the test was administered.
Research is under way on several aspects of this question and backers of the legalization initiative in Washington have proposed that a maximum of 5 nanograms of THC (the principal psycho-active component of cannabis) per milliliter of blood be adopted as a standard for intoxication. Is that the "right" number? Two other states use 2 nanograms. Is that better?
There's also no consensus among professionals over what percentage of traffic accidents should be linked to marijuana use. Alcohol is easier to track and 2009 statistics show that 32 percent of all fatal accidents in the U.S. involved at least one driver with a blood-alcohol count over the limit used by most states.
We're not in a hurry to add to this problem.
Workplace issues: Most companies, The Daily News included, screen prospective employees for use of illegal drugs and regard appearing at work under the influence of drugs (or alcohol) as an offense that could provide grounds for termination.
Legalizing marijuana transfers the entire burden of maintaining a drug-free workplace to these employers. Keeping intoxicating drugs out of the plant or the office is a major challenge for some businesses now. Just imagine the extent of this problem if "recreational" marijuana were available over the counter at retail stores.
Should employers be allowed to require constant, random drug testing or testing on demand without cause? Many would insist on it. Marijuana users, on the other hand, would press for their rights as consumers of a legal product.
Do we want to court this situation?
We're not blind to the fact all surveys seem to agree that millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians regularly ingest marijuana. Data compiled by the National Institute of Health in 2008 estimated the total number of marijuana users in the U.S. at 15 million.
Legalization wouldn't do anything but increase that figure. That's why we're against it.


 

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