The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that states require cannabis warning labels on all marijuana products that warn drivers of the risks of impaired driving, writing in a report released last week that impairment from drugs, “especially cannabis, is a growing concern that needs to be addressed.” The agency noted that while dozens of states have legalized sales of cannabis, the continued prohibition of marijuana at the national level prevents the federal government from setting a national labeling requirement.
In the NTSB report, released on January 12, the agency wrote that researchers have determined that alcohol is the most commonly detected substance in impaired driving incidents, followed by cannabis. They also found that while alcohol is most often detected alone, cannabis was most often detected in combination with alcohol or other drugs.
“We’ve long known about the devastating impact of alcohol-impaired driving, but this report shows that impairment from other drugs, especially cannabis, is a growing concern that needs to be addressed,” NTSB member Tom Chapman said in a statement from the agency.
The report observed that the states that have legalized cannabis don’t have uniform labeling regulations. While many states require some form of warning label on regulated cannabis products, several states don’t specifically mandate warnings that include the dangers of driving while impaired, the agency maintains.
“An NTSB analysis of laws in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, identified 23 jurisdictions where cannabis sales are legal but where cannabis label requirements are not required or are inadequate,” the report notes. “This includes 12 jurisdictions that have no driving-related label requirements, 4 that have label requirements for only certain cannabis products, and 7 whose labeling requirements do not explicitly warn against driving after cannabis use.”
Although the agency acknowledged that it’s not clear if labels warning of the risks of driving while impaired by cannabis would influence drivers’ behavior or improve safety on the nation’s roadways, the NTSB recommended in its report that all states that have legalized cannabis should mandate warning labels on regulated cannabis products.
“The NTSB concludes that including driving-related warnings on cannabis products, similar to those on alcohol and many prescription and OTC drugs, would increase awareness of the risks of cannabis-impaired driving,” the agency wrote in its report. “Therefore, the NTSB recommends that the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the 21 states where cannabis use is legal but driving-related cannabis warning labels are not required or are inadequate require a warning label on cannabis products advising users not to drive after cannabis use due to its impairing effects.”
NTSB Report May Be Flawed
But Andrea A. Golan, an attorney with the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg and a member of the practice’s Regulatory Compliance and Hemp and Cannabinoids Departments, disputes some of the report’s findings, writing in an email to Cannabis Now that some of the information presented in it is inaccurate.
“I think to some extent, this report lacks knowledge of state cannabis laws,” Golan wrote. “Footnote 92 lists jurisdictions with no driving-related label requirements and lists seven states that don’t explicitly warn against driving after cannabis use, including Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This is simply not accurate.”
Golan cited the warnings required in Arizona, California and Colorado, noting that others could also have similar labeling requirements. She added that while investigating the 12 states alleged to have no labeling requirement is warranted, most states with legal medical marijuana or adult-use cannabis have regulations requiring impaired driving warnings similar to the government warning mandated for alcohol. Golan agreed that there are risks associated with driving while impaired by cannabis, but she questioned whether amending labeling requirements is the most effective way to address the issue.
“More warranted is educating the consumer,” she wrote. “For the inexperienced user, they may not know when the effects will kick-in, how long the effects last, or understand the extent of impairing effects. Here, additional safety advisory language educating the consumer on the effects of consumption would be warranted.”
Justin Kahn CEO and co-founder of Reepher, a company that offers coverage for costs related to cannabis-related DUIs, also questioned the NTSB’s recommendation for warning labels, noting that he is unaware of any data showing they are an effective deterrent to impaired driving. He added that moving to uniform labeling requirements among the states with legal cannabis would be a hardship with small businesses already dealing with strict regulations and high taxes.
“Similar labeling requirements exist for alcohol, and the measurable impact on intoxicated driving has been little to nothing,” Kahn says. “Changes in labeling requirements are burdensome for small businesses, requiring capital investment to change packaging design, without demonstrating a benefit to society.”
The NTSB also included other recommendations to improve safety on the nation’s streets and highways, including the standardization of toxicology testing for the detection of drug use and a call for research on how to improve compliance with driving-related warnings on prescription and over-the-counter drugs that have the potential to impair driving.
“Impaired driving leads to tragedy every day on our nation’s roads, but it doesn’t have to,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “To create a truly safe system—one where impaired driving is a relic of the past—states and federal agencies must implement our recommendations, and fast. Further complacency is inexcusable.”