Impaired Driving Program Reveals Rift Among Cannabis Commissioners

Camargo Charges Politics Rushed ‘Blunt Truth’ Curriculum

JAN. 13, 2023…..Cannabis control commissioners were at sharp disagreement Thursday over a new curriculum on driving under the influence of marijuana.

This month, Massachusetts became the first recreational-use cannabis state in the nation to adopt a curriculum to educate teens on cannabis-impaired driving. But Commissioner Nurys Camargo said the curriculum had an “underlying feeling or tone of disregard for legalization.”

Commissioners Bruce Stebbins and Kimberly Roy worked with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassDOT, Department of Public Health, AAA and UMass researcher Jennifer Whitehill in deciding to adopt AAA Northeast’s educational program “Shifting Gears, the blunt truth about marijuana and driving” for Massachusetts teens learning to drive.

The curriculum will include information on cannabis, including what tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is, how marijuana affects the brain, physical impairments, effects on visual and physical reaction time, how cannabis interacts with other drugs, and information on coordinating safe transportation to avoid impaired driving, according to Roy, who led the project. Previously, driver’s education referenced drugs and alcohol overall, but going forward it now includes a separate section specifically on cannabis-impaired driving.

Carmargo said she thinks the approved educational program is “missing a real opportunity.”

“I think it’s a little counterproductive,” Carmargo said. “I think that we can all agree, maybe, that authentic education — when it comes to public awareness campaigns or media campaigns — are more effective, especially when dealing with youth. … You guys all have kids and know that sometimes the truth is the best way, right? Instead of trying to scare them.”

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She said members of the commission received an email from Jane Allen, a senior manager of public health at RTI International’s Center for Health Analytics, Media and Policy, who expressed concerns about the curriculum.

Allen wrote in her email, which Carmargo read aloud, that she was worried the curriculum was not evidence-based, and that its content, imagery and tone could produce the unintentional effects of actually increasing the risk of driving under the influence.

“As a public health professional, a Massachusetts citizen and a mom to a new teen driver … and another one about to be in driver’s ed, I would like to see effective, evidence-based curriculum to prevent driving under the influence of cannabis. And I’m afraid this curriculum is not that,” Carmargo read from Allen’s email.

Roy said the curriculum is, in fact, based on evidence from research conducted by AAA Northeast, the AAA Foundation, the Foundation for Traffic Safety, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and was reviewed for accuracy by researchers from Brown University’s school of Public Health.

“Brown University is an Ivy League institution. Their researchers are esteemed researchers, so we value having their checkmark for accuracy and evidence-base,” Roy said later.

Carmargo said she felt the CCC’s research and communications staff should have had more of a role. Roy argued that the commission’s research team was part of the working group, though she said they were reassigned to other “research priorities” about a quarter of the way through the process.

Carmargo also said Thursday that the curriculum was launched before the whole commission had a chance to see it. Due to the state’s open meeting law requirements, Roy and Stebbins could not discuss the ongoing work on the driving curriculum outside of public meetings, and Carmargo said she felt the other commissioners “rushed” the program’s launch before bringing it before them.

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MassDOT and the RMV held a press conference at the Worcester Registry of Motor Vehicles on Dec. 16 to formally announce the adoption of the program.

“The reality of it is that I think we put politics over our youth and we released this a little bit too quick that didn’t allow us as commissioners or as the commission staff to really review this and really look at this,” Carmargo said.

Roy responded later that the curriculum’s implementation wasn’t political.

“This is a national model, we were the first in the nation. I just want to clarify, this was never politics. This was public safety, prevention, education and protecting young people. It’s public safety and public health. It was never about politics. So I need to clear the record on that,” she said.

The decision over the curriculum is ultimately not up to the commission, Roy told Carmargo. Though the commission brought the issue “to light”, she said, determining the curriculum is up to MassDOT and the Registry, she said.

The commission voted 3-1, with Carmargo voting in opposition, to put the CCC’s logo on the curriculum’s educational materials. Roy, Stebbins and Chairwoman Shannon O’Brien voted in support.

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