Cannabis & Alcohol: Polar Regulatory Planes

Cannabis and alcohol are often compared to one another. Why is that? Well, from a political and cultural lens, it seems fairly obvious. Both are mind-altering substances which have gained acceptance, by the majority, within the realm of modern American culture. There is no hiding the way in which cannabis is continually pushing political reformation, one state at a time. Alcohol, on the other hand, has been commonplace ever since the end of its prohibition. So, if we are to continue to look at these two substances side by side, then why is it so hard to regulate them in a similar manner?

Colorado, upon legalizing recreational cannabis, was promised that it would be regulated on the same plane as alcohol. Amendment 64 states: “The people of the state of Colorado find and declare that the use of marijuana should be regulated in a similar manner to alcohol.” Well, nearly two years after the passing of this bill, that is simply not happening. Let’s explore the ways in which marijuana regulation differs from that of alcohol, starting with DUI laws.

Driving under the influence of either cannabis or alcohol, god forbid both at the same time, is highly unsafe–but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it. When drivers hear sirens and see flashing lights, if they are under the influence of alcohol, a breathalyzer will determine, right then and there, whether or not they are above the legal limit.

Driving high on cannabis, however, encompasses a much more assumptive approach to determining whether or not that person is driving under the influence. When drivers’ eyes appear red, their behavior is off, or they simply appear tired, a law official could make a threatening accusation that they’re high. According to CNN, those drug tested with “five nanograms [of THC per milliliter of blood” could land themselves a DUI.

But, as high school health class taught me, THC can stay in the blood stream anywhere from one to four weeks. Therefore, cannabis blood tests cannot definitively prove current intoxication, meaning that someone who has smoked within the past month could still be accused of driving while high.

Paul Armentano pointed out that per se DUI regulations, as adhered to in Washington and thirteen other states, are especially unjust in the case of cannabis. “The presence of cannabinoids nor their metabolites are appropriate or consistent predictors of behavioral or psychomotor impairment,” he added.

Although Colorado enforces permissive inference laws, which indicate that “impairment [is] inferred but not defined by blood THC levels,” it still relies on a presumptuous method of determining impairment. This is in direct opposition to DUI law enforcement regarding alcohol, as .08 is definitive in proving an intoxicated level of blood alcohol content. Meanwhile, cannabis’ level of impairment is still a widely debated topic within the scientific community.

Secondly, if cannabis and alcohol are to be regulated in the same way, then why, Colorado, aren’t we allowed to smoke publicly? Amendment 64 states that citizens can “consum[e] marijuana, provided that nothing in this section shall permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others.” This makes sense, but not when it is looked at from within the context of regulating cannabis like alcohol.

Public alcohol consumption is something that no one truly thinks twice about–there are bars and alcohol readily available. It may take time, and possibly some re-evaluation of the current law, but cannabis cannot be consumed in public. Evidently, this does not equate to the initial proposal of cannabis being regulated like alcohol.

In order to grow the recreational cannabis movement, it is imperative that stop comparing alcohol and cannabis. By looking at the substances as one in the same, the law imposes limitations on both personal and business ventures with the cannabis plant. There is a world of opportunity that is being suppressed–smoke lounges, dab bars, consumption in concert venues–as a result of the failed attempt to regulate cannabis like alcohol. This failed regulation, in its original state, is not thriving and should be reconsidered.

To be fair, the appropriate age of consumption for alcohol and cannabis is 21. That is a blatant similarity between the regulation of both substances, and perhaps the only clear correlation in regards to regulation. If we examine the amount of cannabis one can carry, it is limited to one ounce, whereas alcohol does not have a limit.

Employers can test for cannabis, but not alcohol. Lease agreements can contain clauses that state that cannabis usage is prohibited on the property, but this type of regulation does not exist for alcohol. Additionally, cannabis taxation is significantly higher than that of alcohol. It is foolish to think that cannabis and alcohol can be regulated in a similar manner; they are wildly different and should be treated as such.

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