This November’s elections showed just how much attitudes toward marijuana use have changed in the United States. Nine states voted on marijuana legalization this fall. Post-election results? Eight of those nine states voted to legalize some form of marijuana use, whether medical or recreational. The upshot is that more than half of the states in the US have now legalized some type of marijuana use.
That has big ramifications for driving safety, even in states that did not vote to legalize marijuana. Mary Ball, Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention “ASAP” Coalition Coordinator at the Brooke Hancock Family Resource Network in Weirton, West Virginia, knows about this firsthand through her work. While marijuana use is not yet legal in West Virginia, two neighboring states have legalized its use. That is why ASAP took steps last year to purchase Innocorp’s Marijuana Kit.
Mary found what the coalition wanted at the 2015 Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s National Leadership Forum in Washington DC: The Fatal Vision® Marijuana Simulation Kit. Attending coalition members were able to take part in a demonstration of the kit and it was decided that this would be the perfect solution to help with how they wanted to address the dangers of marijuana use in their community. The Hancock County Savings Bank Charitable Foundation agreed with ASAP’s assessment of the Marijuana Kit and bestowed a grant to purchase it.
The Brooke Hancock Family Resource Network “BHFRN” is a grant-funded agency mandated to meet community needs either by promoting already-existing programs or by creating new ones that do. BHFRN realized there was a need to address substance abuse prevention and in 1996 developed a committee to focus on these needs. This committee eventually evolved into the ASAP Coalition in 2011 and continued to grow over the years.
Since ASAP had a longtime focus on underage drinking, drug abuse/misuse, and tobacco use prevention, it only made sense to research the issues surrounding marijuana use and share results with the legislature and community. ASAP’s attention zeroed in on marijuana use not only because neighboring states have legalized it, but because the West Virginia legislature had also been looking into doing so. For ASAP, that meant preparing for what would certainly have an impact on road safety in West Virginia.
“No doubt there will be impaired drivers. We have a substance abuse problem in the area,” Ball reveals. “We want to help the legislature and citizens make more informed decisions about the issue.”
She says that marijuana use has a divisive effect on the community, and that many people believe that using marijuana is safer than using alcohol. They do not understand that today’s marijuana has much higher levels of THC in it.
“The perception of harm has decreased in the past few years,” Ball says.
ASAP’s challenge was to capture the attention of legislators and citizens and get across that information. Knowing most people do not respond well to lectures, the coalition wanted something that would engage the audience. “People learn better in an interactive situation,” Ball explains.
“The Fatal Vision® Marijuana Simulation Experience Kit focuses on the cognitive impairments that can affect and impair a person’s driving abilities,” Ball says. “It makes you realize what it does to your brain.”
Before using it in the field, ASAP had a big decision to make. They knew community attitudes toward marijuana use and expected plenty of pushback if they created a strictly anti-marijuana presentation. So instead, ASAP decided to create an even-handed presentation of both sides of the issue and incorporate the Fatal Vision® Marijuana Simulation Kit to drive home their points.
The Coalition kept the parts that had a positive impact on participants and ended with a honed tool to use in her community. “We used the parts most effective with those groups,” Ball says.
Presentation learning points included:
- An Introduction to Marijuana
- Local Attitudes Toward Legalization
- Long and Short-Term Effects of Marijuana Use
ASAP incorporated the Marijuana Kit’s activities to involve audience members and transform them into participants. The hands-on nature of the kit leads naturally into a risks vs. benefits discussion of marijuana use.
Ball says that the Marijuana Kit, especially the goggles, are a real conversation starter and that people do not always agree that the goggles recreate the sensation of marijuana use. However, that creates an opportunity for presenters to explain that of course they do not recreate the sensation of being “high,” but the goggles simulate the slowed reactions and impaired perception and driving skills of people using marijuana.
Rachael Ferrise, a participant who completed the Maze Activity, one of the activities included in the kit, stated she found the experience very eye opening during an interview with local news station WTOV9. “When I put the goggles on, it took me some time,” Ferrise said. “I don’t even know which way I was going. I couldn’t see the colors on the page, so I was just running through the lines.”