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Marijuana Goggles and ‘Stoned Babies’: Why AAA Is Propping Up Prohibition

June 27, 2017
St. Louis Park, United States - June 23, 2014: AAA Regional Headquarters and service center. The AAA is a non-profit federation of motor clubs in North America.
AAA, which is the official new name of the American Automobile Association, has recently thrust itself into the cannabis legalization fight as an outspoken critic of cannabis legalization, which has raised eyebrows among some in the legalization movement. The travel map and roadside-help company? Why are they even getting involved?

One AAA official voiced fears that legalization would mean 'more babies will be born high.'

Most of the pro-prohibition advocacy is coming from the AAA’s Mid-Atlantic office in Wilmington, Delaware. Earlier this  year Ragina Cooper Averella, that office’s spokesperson, argued against legalization in Maryland based on what she characterized as “the increasing plague of drugged driving.” Another Mid-Atlantic AAA official raised the bizarre fear that “more babies will be born high” during a forum to discuss legalization in Delaware.

Legalization advocates contacted by Leafly said they agree with the need for vehicle safety and unimpaired driving, but they think AAA is misusing its public credibility. In fact, the data on cannabis legalization and impaired driving has not yet yielded any definitive conclusions.


Which States Are Most Likely to Legalize Cannabis Next?

Two studies published in the just the past week came to conflicting conclusions about the effect of legalization on driving habits. One study, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that collision claim frequencies in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon were about 3 percent higher than in neighboring non-legal states. A second study, published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), researchers at the University of Texas concluded that changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado between 2009 and 2015 were no different than rates in similar states that did not legalize adult-use cannabis.

Meanwhile, traffic fatalities fell 11% in states that legalized medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, traffic fatalities have actually decreased. A 2013 study found that traffic fatalities dropped 8% to 11%, on average, in the year after states legalized medical marijuana. A similar study released in 2016 found that traffic deaths fell 11%, on average, in states that legalized medical marijuana. And yet there has been no call from any AAA officials to expand the legalization of medical marijuana, based on that correlation (which, remember, is not the same as causation) between medical marijuana legalization and a drop in fatalities.

“AAA could be the group to come in and separate the facts from the myths so that politicians and others actually do pursue some evidence-based policies,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. “Instead they’re largely fearmongering and further politicizing the issue.”

Apart from its iconic roadside assistance, AAA offers insurance, travel planning, and various automotive services to 56 million members in the U.S and Canada. Officials with the nonprofit organization declined to comment for this story.


California Asks Major Insurance Carriers to Cover Cannabis Industry

Pivoting Away From Neutrality

The organization’s newly embraced anti-legalization stance is a hard turn from AAA’s previous position—which is to say, no position at all.

When advocates in Western states like Washington and Colorado began campaigning for adult-use legalization, AAA said little. Now that the legalization movement has reached the East Coast, it’s a different story. Responding to concerns shown in a Pennsylvania poll on drugged driving, AAA officials have advised lawmakers in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, to resist legal adult use cannabis.

'If you’re impaired by marijuana, you’re less likely to be able to evade a crash.'
Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy

AAA’s Ragina Cooper Averella aired the organization’s pro-prohibition policy in a Baltimore Sun editorial on February 1. “AAA opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use because of its negative traffic safety implications and the current challenges in discerning and addressing marijuana-impaired driving,” she wrote.

In a June 20 article, BuzzFeed reporter Alyson Martin quoted Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research at AAA.

“If you’re impaired by marijuana, you’re less likely to be able to evade a crash,” he said. “You are slower to respond to get out of the way of a driver coming down the way towards you. It will contribute to a crash, whether you are responsible for a crash.”

AAA’s concerns grew out of statistics from a May 2016 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analysis of Washington State Patrol data that concluded: “Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana more than doubled — from 8 percent to 17 percent. One in six drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for active-THC.”

Last week’s American Journal of Public Health article seemed to contradict that conclusion—kind of. The two studies didn’t look at the same exact data. The AJPH study compared overall vehicle crash rates in legal states to non-legal states. The AAA/Washington State Patrol study looked at the blood THC levels of drivers involved in fatal crashes. The data in the latter study can be affected by a number of significant factors, including the State Patrol’s greater propensity to test for THC, and the agency’s greater ability to conduct those tests, in the legalization era.


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Which Study Is Valid?

Further, the authors of the AJPH argued that measuring cannabis levels in crashes—as in the AAA/Washington State Patrol study, is an inaccurate method. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, doesn’t check for cannabis in drivers in every state, and lab testing for cannabis levels is still an imperfect science.

Most cannabis-related traffic studies contain a common theme: Law enforcement agencies may be testing more for THC in states where it is legal than they did prior to legalization, or consumers may be consuming more cannabis, but there is no definitive causal link between an increase in crash fatalities and  any given state’s rate of cannabis consumption.

“This study of crash risk found a statistically significant increase in unadjusted crash risk for drivers who tested positive for use of illegal drugs (1.21 times), and THC specifically (1.25 times),” reads a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report. “However, analyses incorporating adjustments for age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol concentration level did not show a significant increase in levels of crash risk associated with the presence of drugs. This finding indicates that these other variables (age, gender ethnicity and alcohol use) were highly correlated with drug use and account for much of the increased risk associated with the use of illegal drugs and with THC.”

AAA Really Dislikes Cannabis

Besides safety concerns, AAA has some reasons to dislike legalization, some of which relate to its lobbying activities and some of which seem to come from an entrenched Drug War attitude.

There are obvious financial reasons. If cannabis indeed has a safety impact, DUI-stricken drivers are more expensive to insure – which is one of the reasons AAA has always lobbied in favor of more and stricter DUI laws.

But AAA seems to step beyond its realm of expertise in several cases, making broad statements about cannabis and society that sound more like rhetoric than data-based policy suggestions.

During an April meeting in Delaware, Cathy Rossi, vice president of public and governmental affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said legalization would be a bad idea for reasons that had nothing to do with vehicle safety.

“It also creates an entirely new, costly public infrastructure,” she said. “It means a lot of young people will begin to munch on the edibles that has a much higher potency and more babies will be born high.”

AAA’s Mid-Atlantic office lobbied hard against a pro-cannabis bill in Delaware, even going as far as to offer the state’s lawmakers the chance to wear “marijuana goggles” so they could imagine the changes in perception THC creates.

Official statements from other spokespeople ask Political Science 101-type questions that veer far off the interstate highway system.

In a March 7 testimony submitted to the CT Public Health Committee, Amy Parmenter, public and governmental affairs manager for AAA Allied Group, listed three key reasons the organization opposes legalization, among them the “complexities and challenges legalization would present to law enforcement, our courts, state agencies, and public health.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska, officials tasked with integrating legalization laws into courts, state agencies, and police departments typically only seem to have problems implementing cannabis legalization changes when they run into federal laws–which still declare cannabis illegal.


The different ways to smoke and consume cannabis

DJ Summers's Bio Image

DJ Summers

DJ Summers is a journalist and the author of The Business of Cannabis, set to publish in spring of 2018. Follow him on Twitter @djsummers87 or email him at

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  • NeverViolence

    Good to know this about AAA! I’ll definitely use my money and feet to show my disapproval with their stance.

    • Gary Craig

      I thought about, in the past, joining AAA. That thought is now gone. You can bet $$$,s are involved in their fear mongering. Next thing they’ll say is they’ve evolved on mmj. That is to say they’re against that, as well. Sorta like 45.

      • JohnB

        With nearly every insurance policy now including roadside assistance, as well as membership in various retail clubs, such as Costco or Sam’s, including roadside assistance, I wonder who even buys AAA memberships anymore anyway?

        It is far more expensive and less comprehensive than competing products.

    • Gary Craig

      Yeah, if enough people start dropping AAA because of their anti cannabis stance, losing money, maybe they’ll do an about face on this issue.

  • Denise Valenti

    This certainly is a complex topic. Just because a group is strongly advocating for public safety and position calls for more research, more law enforcement training and more public awareness — before states make marijuana legal — does not mean that they are anti marijuana. AAA is communicating the data and making public the research as it evolves and the numbers coming from Colorado and Washington, among the first to legalize–the data is painting a picture of increased deaths with marijuana. Death and the deaths of innocent citizens is more than enough reason for AAA to have the position of not moving forward with marijuana recreational use without considering the safety of everyone on the road. For AAA to hold any other position would be against their purpose. One can not ignore the hard facts that are out there. Washington state have more dead people due to marijuana and only marijuana in a driver’s system. This rate doubled. And the state of Washington data clearly shows that a driver in a fatal crash, having tested positive to marijuana alone, no other drugs or alcohol is five times more likely to kill someone other than themselves compared to a driver using alcohol in a fatal crash. A driver using marijuana kills innocent pedestrians, bicyclists, other drivers or passengers at a significantly higher rate than those who drive drunk.
    Page 49…..

    • Bob Rhodes

      I live in Seattle & you are full of BS!!!

    • Lets be honest here; the part of this study that invalidates your argument, is the fact that marijuana stays actively in your system for up to and exceeding thirty days after ingestion. As an additional argument against this propaganda I would mention anyone and everyone with any experience with marijuana knows you and your study are lying or ignorant of reality.

      • Denise Valenti

        Thank you so much for your interest. You are correct marijuana can be in the system long after use and for thirty days…It also has been shown to impair functions that are useful for retinal ganglion cell, eye functions for long after use. This paper published in JAMA demonstrated dysfunction even after abstinence.
        And the Washington data investigated active THC, the form that is from acute, recent use. So marijuana impairs functions both acutely and in chronic abstinent use. THC in the system long after consumption may also impair functions important for driving in some individuals.

        • angie497

          “THC in the system long after consumption may also impair functions important for driving in some individuals.”

          Except for the not-so-minor detail that there is absolutely no science to back up that statement.

          • Denise Ann Valenti

            Strong science to back it up. For those able to read…the link was provided in my comments.

          • Walter Schwenk

            A quote from your “report”. Did you even read it?
            “The observations described in this report are insufficient for determining the link between THC and
            crash risk.”

          • Denise Valenti

            As a scientist and a person with thirty years experience research/clinical– in impaired driving; sensory, physical and cognitive… I look at the data and have the extensive professional science background to draw my own conclusions. Did you read it and look at that data? Rough numbers: 300 alcohol positive drivers involved in fatal crashes. 100 marijuana impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes. Of the alcohol drivers, they killed 34 innocent pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers or other driver. Roughly 250 of the alcohol positive drivers died in the crash. Of the 100 positive marijuana, they KILLED 51 innocent pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers or other driver. And of those 100 positive, only one half actually died themselves. The data from Washington and evolving from other states with recreational marijuana is demonstrating; with significance, that marijuana impaired drivers are harming others at a high rate.

  • Nominalis

    These are the shoes on my feet. This is my bicycle. Look, here’s my bus pass! Uhmerican Whatomobile Huhsociation?

  • Brian Kelly

    There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize marijuana nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

    The prohibitionist view on marijuana is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

    Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

    Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of marijuana prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

    With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a marijuana prohibitionist to do?

    Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Marijuana Legalization Efforts!

    • Mike the bike

      The problem is women, and mothers specifically. They know everything. Repeal the 19th amendment now!

      • Li

        More women use cannabis than men .

    • MrMuon

      Yes but everywhere the old dinosaurs are in positions of power, also in the AAA aparently.

      • Brian Kelly

        It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

        Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

        The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

        Legalize Nationwide!

      • Gary Craig

        See Jeff Sessions, Chuck Grassley and Diane Feinstein, among others.

    • Gary Craig

      Yes! I’d love to see that smug smirk wiped off Kevin Sabet’s face, of Project SCAM, oops I mean SAM.

  • Nate M

    whether or not cannabis is considered “legal” doesn’t stop people from using and driving. i would imagine the act of responsibly buying cannabis would be extended to adults staying responsible in their use and perhaps be prompted to stop and think a moment about making the choice to get really baked before driving their car in the first place. AND I don’t know about ya’ll, but from coast to coast, our driving while using cell phones epidemic is off the charts….I haven’t heard much about that issue and the accidents, crashes, fatalities taking place from cruising while sending text messages, taking selfies, snapchatting on the road, etc. Honestly, wake the F up America

  • jim heffner

    I decided to rejoin the American Legion because of their recent backing of medical so the fair thing to do is find a replacement for AAA.

  • Mike the bike

    AAA is wrong on impaired driving, therefore they may be wrong on everything else they say.

  • JohnB

    If AAA really wanted to increase their credibility about cannabis and driving, they would conduct the test that so far every state and federal agency has neglected; test real drivers behind the wheels of real cars both before and after cannabis consumption, and measure whether they become unsafe – at any level of consumption.

    Road and Track magazine did such an experiment in 1980, and published the results in their magazine. Earlier this year, two different television stations repeated the experiment for special news segments.

    In all three cases, the results were identical; cannabis AFFECTED drivers, but did not cause them to FAIL the test, or thus become unsafe.

    In all three cases the actual drivers, who represented a broad range of ages and both genders, almost universally reported a greater sense of impairment than their actual test results revealed, and they almost universally said that they didn’t WANT to drive.

    Unlike alcohol, cannabis causes people to think they are more impaired than they are, which makes them more cautious drivers.

    It’s well past time for a similar study to be officially conducted at the federal level, to settle the question once and for all.

    Obviously, these preliminary and unofficial results don’t bode well for the perpetuation of per se limits that are actually intended as revenue generators, not as measures to protect public safety.

    • Mike Dywat

      its hard to test at the federal level because it is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug

    • Majik53

      I would prefer they would use driving simulators instead of driving discrete vehicles for safety’s sake during their comparisons, but otherwise I fully agree with your points. They can hook up response timers and duplicate the same road situations for each driver under test much easier with a sim.

  • jsh1899

    Screw AAA! Your fired!



  • Xylem

    I renew my AAA membership almost automatically. Going to reconsider that practice now. They should stay the hell out of private adult behavior.

  • Majik53

    The ‘weed goggles’ gimmick is too stupid for words. I know of NO ONE who ever sees green when they have THC in their system. They are trying to equate the ‘deleterious’ effects to alcohol, and there is no comparison there IRL. I’m a Cannabis patient, and even at my most euphoric experience, my eyesight, color vision, and general judgement are fine.

    Since I have been taking Cannabis as a medicine for over 10 years every day (I would be classed as a ‘heavy’ user) I have only had one accident while driving, and that was someone else’s impatience or distraction who rammed me from a parking lot while I was driving by. I personally would be a danger on the road if I didn’t use Cannabis because it keeps my limbs from spasmodically jerking from nerve damage.

    From my experience and observation, only a n00b user who took too much would be a potential danger on the road. AAA needs to fire that idiot, and get back to FACT-based policies.

    In the land of common sense, NO one should drive impaired; but this is a ridiculous scam that unscientifically defrauds the true perceptions of a user for small-minded, wrong-headed, and INCORRECT political (lies) ends.

  • Rich Condition

    Idc what these AAA- holes say; I drive way better stoned than I do sober

  • 360dunk

    I just switched to GEICO and it didn’t take 15 minutes. Since AAA and their spokes-idiot Ragina Averella are such judgmental stooges, they just lost me as a customer.

    • Gary Craig

      They’re trying their hardest to make sure cannabis is not legalized anywhere in the Mid Atlantic region. Please, AAA, go the “f” away!

  • familyguy

    AAA does nothing for anyone, all the services they provide are already covered by auto insurance. It is a waste of money. Let them go broke.

  • Gerald Garrett

    The AAA must be run by pill popping drinkers as have no idea of the plant cannabis and impairment if any when responsibly used. Those that believe in prohibition believe in incarceration. I say lock up all the drinkers and finally have safe roads to drive on.

  • Izzat So

    Hey, triple A, how tough are you on the legal use of alcohol? Last time I heard, alcohol is a major factor in highway accidents and deaths. Maybe you should be called HHH, for Hardly Heuristic Hypocrites.

  • Travis Stuewe

    So medical weed didn’t increase wrecks, but recreational weed did. It doesn’t take much common sense to see the difference isn’t the weed, it’s the extra traffic due to more people going to get recreational weed. Numbers would be lower across the board, similar to medical weed, if the neighboring states also had legal recreational weed.

    • MrMuon

      In Germany, the equivalent of the supreme court has ruled that medical marijuana users are allowed to have THC in their blood, but recreational marijana users have a limit of only 1ng/ml in the bloodserum (i.e. 0.5ng/ml blood) which is still present after weeks of a one-time use.

      Clearly, if THC does not impair medical users enough to become a danger on the road, but recreation users are punished for it, one can only conclude that this is not about road safety, but about finding extra means to “discourage” i.e. sabotage the lives of consumers. For no good reason but to make life hard for them, Disgusting!

  • BenSamizdat

    I wonder who is really behind this sudden rhetoric, because I swear it looks just like the propoganda-vomit spewing out of Jeff Sessions mouth.

  • slimj091

    Hey AAA. I don’t own a car, and I don’t drive cars. I also don’t have children. I’m kind of feeling left out here.

  • Walt Corcoran

    Just dropped from both vehicle and motorcycle. Good riddance

  • Golden boy

    I have just canceled my AAA membership.

    Although i have been a Auto Club member for over 29 years, i no longer feel comfortable with AAA’s service.

    I’m growing increasingly concerned regarding AAA’s stance lobbying against the passage of proposed legislation seeking to regulate the adult use of marijuana. 

    I am among the 60 percent of Americans who believe that the responsible use of marijuana by adults should no longer be prohibited, and I do not appreciate my membership dues funding activities that seek to keep so many of my friends and colleagues categorized as criminals.

    Further, I object to tactics being used by AAA representatives to distort this debate.

    As reported by (June 27, 2017:, AAA representatives in recent months have preyed upon unsubstantiated fears regarding the alleged “increased plague of drugged driving” and the claim that “more babies will be born high” on marijuana in their lobby efforts against adult use regulatory reforms in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and elsewhere.

    In fact, according to federal data, auto accident fatalities have fallen significantly over the past two decades – during the same time that a majority of US states have legalized marijuana for either medical or social use. In 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were an estimated 37,500 fatal car crashes on US roadways. This total fell to under 30,000 by 2014.

    Further, a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health in June reports that fatal traffic accident rates in legal marijuana states are no different than those in states where cannabis remains illegal (Crash fatality rates after recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado: ;

    A separate study published last year in the same journal previously reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers. (US traffic fatalities, 1985-2014, and their relationship to medical marijuana laws: Authors of the study concluded: “[O]n average, MMLs (medical marijuana laws) states had lower traffic fatality rates than non-MML states. …. MMLs are associated with reductions in traffic fatalities, particularly pronounced among those aged 25 to 44 years. … It is possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior in MML-states.”

    Unlike those influenced by alcohol, studies consistently find that drivers who test positive for marijuana alone (absent any other drugs or alcohol) possess a comparatively nominal accident risk. In fact, the largest ever controlled trial assessing marijuana use and motor vehicle accidents, published in 2015 by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, determined that THC positive drivers possess virtually no statistically significant crash risk compared to drug-free drivers after investigators controlled for confounding variables such as age and gender (NHTSA: Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk, DOT HS 812 117)  By contrast, drivers with detectable levels of alcohol in their blood at legal limits possess nearly a four-fold risk of accident, even after adjusting for age and gender.

    This finding is consistent with the majority of available crash risk data. For example, a review (Risk of road accident associated with the use of drugs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of evidence from epidemiological studies: of 66 separate crash culpability studies published in 2013 in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention reported that THC-positive drivers possessed a crash risk on par with drivers testing positive for penicillin (Odds Ratio: 1.10 for cannabis versus OR: 1.12 for penicillin).

    Rather than continuing to perpetuate unfounded myths and stereotypes, I encourage AAA to learn the facts. Please be nonpartisan in this debate and use your position to educate both the public and politicians so that they may pursue evidence-based policies that strengthen public safety rather than undermine it. Safer roads is something we all want. But lying about marijuana does not help us achieve this goal. Instead, it only serves to further isolate the organization from many of its members and alienate potential new ones.