Cedric Stephens | Plugging the knowledge gap on ganja risk to road safety | Business

The General Assembly of the United Nations mandated the World Health Organization and the UN’s regional commissions to plan and host periodic UN Global Road Safety Week events.

These ‘weeks’ have been held since 2007. The programme aims to advocate making a 30-kilometre per hour speed limit the norm for cities worldwide in places where people mix with traffic.

This was news to me. It explained the caption to the photo that was published in this newspaper on May 19. Five persons, including, oddly, the boss of a taxi lobby group, were shown holding signs with the number 30 at the busy Hope, Trafalgar, and Waterloo Road intersection in St Andrew. When I saw the notice about the National Road Safety Council’s webinar on the same subject, the penny suddenly dropped.

The other trigger for today’s article was a full-page advertisement in the same newspaper. It was sponsored by the Ministry of Health & Wellness and the National Council on Drug Abuse. Its title: Good ganja sense. The ad, the second in a series, highlighted in general terms the pluses associated with the use of medicinal cannabis for certain conditions and the potential economic benefits. They led me to search for information about the minuses associated with the use of ‘the herb’. Did the pluses outweigh the minuses or vice versa? Did reliable information exist that suggested a link between the smoking of ganja and motor vehicle accidents?

Many persons on the streets, including drivers, believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. Do motor insurers have data that suggest otherwise?

This newspaper produced a bounty of data that highlights the driving risks. The article ‘Driving under the influence – smoking ganja could be a major factor in major accidents, fatalities’, published on July 9, 2016, citing one of the country’s leading psychiatrists, Professor Wendel Abel, is one example. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specialises in mental health, including substance-use disorders. Specialists in this field are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems.

“We are quite concerned about driving under the influence of any mind-altering substance, be it alcohol or marijuana, especially given the alarming number of road fatalities and high accident rate,” Abel was reported to have said. His statement did not mention persons who consumed both substances at the same time and operated motor vehicles. “There is no doubt that smoking marijuana does affect motor coordination, reaction time, distance perception, and so on … ,” he said.

Big construction sites around Kingston and St Andrew without exception ban ganja smoking. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also support Prof Abel’s conclusions. Drugs and alcohol interfere with the brain’s ability to function properly. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the main active ingredient in ganja, affects areas of the brain that control the body’s movements, balance, coordination, memory, and judgement.

Other data obtained from the Gleaner article included the following:

• The Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey 2008 found that 13.5 per cent of the population in the 15–74-year age group used marijuana. With the decriminalisation of the use of ganja for recreational use, more persons are likely to be smoking ganja in 2021 than in 2008;

• By the age of 16 years, 19 per cent of Jamaican smokers had initiated smoking;

• According to the National Secondary School Survey 2013, alcohol, marijuana, and cigarette use were higher among 15 to 16-year-olds;

• 30.8 per cent of Jamaican students report that drugs were available at their schools; twice that number said it was available near their school;

• According to the National Council on Drug Abuse, between 2006 and 2011, 47 per cent of persons admitted for treatment and rehabilitation were for issues associated with ganja use;

• Over 95 per cent of adolescents referred to NCDA by schools or families were for marijuana use.

Is more up-to-date information on this subject available? Amendments were made to the old and new Road Traffic Acts to empower the police to test persons who were suspected of driving under the influence alcohol or drugs. Is testing being done as part of a broader strategy to reduce the carnage on our roads?

Philip Paulwell, opposition spokesman on energy, according to the April 28 Gleaner, told members of the House “that legal customers of the JPS were paying an estimated 17.5 per cent of bills to defray costs associated with electricity theft”. In the motor insurance market, are ganja smokers causing more motor vehicle accidents than non-ganja smokers? If so, are non-ganja smokers subsidising the cost of motor insurance for ganja smokers, and by how much?

Reducing the speed limit to 30 kilometres per hour will not be sufficient to save lives. Having a better understanding about drivers’ use of ganja and alcohol and developing strategies to change their behaviour is also important.

Final word: A news report from CNN on Friday stated that the first tropical storm system for the 2021 hurricane season is likely to form this weekend. It reminded me of the concerns that were raised last Sunday about what was happening in the island’s disaster management agency, the ODPEM.

– Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to aegis@flowja.com.

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