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How One Arizona Town Is Encouraging People to Get High and Drive

10:50 AM EDT on October 26, 2010

Medical marijuana may get a new adherent this November in the state of Arizona, one of a handful of states where voters will consider lifting restrictions on the widely used drug.

Of course, not everyone is happy about the change. Hoping to get a step ahead of marijuana dispensaries, the local government in Oro Valley has adopted legislation that would forbid these establishments within 1,000 feet of any library, church, child-care facility, and park. The legislation, in effect, would make it nearly impossible to open a dispensary within the Tuscon suburb.

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Local officials are obviously trying to be vigilant, but they might be inadvertently setting up a dangerous situation on local roadways, says Erik Ryberg at Tuscon Bike Lawyer:

I am sure the town fathers are proudly patting themselves on the back over their clever application of zoning laws to keep Oro Valley free of dope. But the thing I’ve noticed about marijuana is that it does not produce the same kinds of dumb-ass, testosterone-fueled violence and uproar that, say, alcohol does. I can actually only think of one thing that makes marijuana dangerous, which is when you smoke it and then get behind the wheel of a car.

Which is, of course, the one thing the Town of Oro Valley is going to encourage by this ill-thought ordinance. They are going to protect themselves from all the things that marijuana doesn’t do — create a danger to churches, parks, libraries, and child-care centers that are within 1000 feet of a dispensary — and they are going to increase the danger that marijuana already poses, by making people drive to Tucson for their prescription.

And let’s not fool ourselves: a large portion of those people are going to light up and drive home. Who are they most likely to hit on the way home? I’d say that would be us — bicyclists and pedestrians.

This is a serious concern, Ryberg notes. Tuscon lost a cyclist -- teacher and father Charles Nystrom -- to a motorist under the influence of marijuana just two years ago.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Soap Box LA discusses the finer points of jaywalking laws, following the death of a 16-year-old pedestrian in Los Angeles. Cap'n Transit delves into the Dukakis Center's recent study on transit investments and gentrification. And Grist asks whether we should be concerned that the Livable Communities Act is all carrot and no stick.

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