Impaired driving and youth exposure continue to be focal points for opponents of marijuana legalization, who contend that Proposition 64 would endanger kids allured by pot brownies and motorists sharing the road with stoned drivers. A web-only ad from opponents (they have not yet purchased television airtime) advances those claims.
“Proposition 64 will allow marijuana smoking ads in prime time, and on programs with millions of children and teenage viewers. Children could be exposed to ads promoting marijuana gummy candy and brownies, the same products blamed for a spike in emergency room visits in Colorado. Fatalities doubled in marijuana-related car crashes after legalization in Washington state. Yet, in California, Proposition 64 doesn’t even include a DUI standard.”
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This ad is on the whole accurate, though it omits some nuances in how California would handle television ads and stoned drivers.
Much of the language was pulled verbatim from official ballot arguments that have been vetted by a judge. After reviewing the language about television advertising and kids, Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang changed “will” to “could” in a few instances, reflecting some uncertainty about the possibility of television ads.
It is true that nothing in Proposition 64 explicitly bars television advertising. It even mentions “broadcast” and “cable” communications in establishing a standard that pot ads can only be shown where 71.6 percent of the audience is “reasonably expected” to be 21 or older, so pot ads could be shown on programs where the 28.4 percent of underage viewers still means millions of people.
Proponents argue that federal law already bars televised pot ads, but the reality is more ambiguous. No television stations in states with legal marijuana have run recreational pot ads, with broadcasters shying away out of fear of losing federally managed licenses. A broadcaster in Colorado backed out of running a planned late-night spot.
But it’s a stretch to say television stations are categorically prohibited from running such ads. The Federal Communications Commission has declined to take a public position.
It is true that a Colorado study found a post-legalization increase in youths being treated for marijuana exposure. The study called edible products like brownies and candies a “major source of marijuana exposures in children” and found those sources accounted for about half of the cases examined. While Proposition 64 bars advertising that appeals to kids or pot products that could be easily confused with substance-free foods, it does not forbid edible products.
A study by AAA of fatal crashes in Washington did indeed find that the share of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently used marijuana more than doubled, from 8 percent in 2013 to 17 percent in 2014. A caveat, though: The presence of THC in those drivers’ blood does not necessarily mean they were impaired. The study noted that some of the drivers who tested positive may have last used marijuana “several hours or even days prior to the crash.”
That gets to the trickiness of weed and DUI limits. Proposition 64 does not dictate an explicit level of THC that would indicate impairment – something that would be comparable to blood-alcohol standards. The AAA study notes that imposing similar legal limits for weed is “problematic” because it affects people differently, and AAA president Marshall Doney argued that trying to determine marijuana impairment in that way is “flawed and not supported by scientific research.”
Instead of laying out specific limits, the initiative reiterates it’s illegal to drive while using or impaired by marijuana and then directs the California Highway Patrol to create “protocols to determine whether a driver is operating a vehicle while impaired.” But that standard would be up to the CHP. The initiative does not create one.
PoliGRAPH is The Bee’s political fact checker, rating campaign advertisements and candidate claims as True, Iffy or False.