Recent news that the drivers in two deadly crashes had used marijuana is adding fuel to the ongoing debate over whether the drug should be legalized in Vermont.
Wrong-way driver Steven Bourgoin had THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his system when he slammed into a car carrying five Mad River Valley teenagers last year on Interstate 89, killing all of them.
And Steven Holmes had THC in his system when he drove across the center line on Route 22A in Bridport on August 7 and struck an oncoming truck, killing himself and three passengers in his Volkswagen Beetle. Marijuana might have been a factor, along with speed and fatigue, according to a state police report on the crash.
News of the Bourgoin toxicology report, which VTDigger.org reported last week, drew strong reactions. Pro-legalization forces insisted that marijuana was likely not a key factor, while others worried that it was. According to the state police, Bourgoin had 10 nanograms of THC in his blood eight hours after the crash. That’s twice the legal driving limit in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal.
“To suggest that this accident wasn’t caused by marijuana use was, I think, denying the obvious,” said Rep. Ben Joseph (D-North Hero), a former Superior Court judge. Legalization would expand ready access to marijuana, increasing highway crashes, he predicted: “I just think it’s going to be a terrible price.”
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a longtime legalization advocate, disagreed. Bourgoin also had the opioid fentanyl and an antianxiety prescription drug in his system, according to the police report, and had recently gone to the hospital emergency room with possible mental health problems.