The Legalization of Pot Just Got A Huge Helping Hand

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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74 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1U-ttEkl0o&w=420&h=315%5D
    …but that doesn’t mean it’s cool to spark up and drive. Just like you oughtn’t to drink and drive.Report

  2. Avatar j r says:

    Is driving while stoned a big public safety problem?

    I admit that I’m one of those pro-pot libertarian who doesn’t care much about the DUI issue, as it relates to legalizing marijuana. It’s mostly because I’ve never known of pot being a substantial DUI issue.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r says:

      I will repeat myself but this is just too good.

      The problem with driving drunk is that you will take a curve that ought to be taken at 25 miles per hour at 55 miles per hour and you will crash.

      The problem with driving stoned is that you will stop at a stop sign and wait for it to turn green.

      Two kinds of hazards, sure. But two very different kinds of hazards.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        The problem with driving stoned is that you will get the munchies and drive into the police parking lot, and go into the police department looking for munchies. (some PDs look like pizza huts).

        this is a true story, it did not happen to me.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, in all fairness, there is the thing about headrushes.

        Although I just came up with a great idea for a “driving bong” which presents an excellent business opportunity . . .Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

      There is quite a bit of data. Here’s a review from a couple years ago:

      http://m.clinchem.org/content/59/3/478.shortReport

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

      Yeah, this sort of relates to the question I was mulling – why single weed out? There are all sorts of common OTC drugs for which operating heavy machinery is contraindicated. Half a Benadryl knocks me out, so I only take it before bed. By almost any metric, there have to be more people driving around under the influence of things like Benadryl, yet no one is clamoring for a cheap easy roadside Breathadylizer.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

        The fun ones are the ones that cause sleep driving and unwise posting on the internet of portions of your anatomy that you wouldn’t do while sober/not sleeping.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Glyph says:

        Ideally they would come up with some sort of behavioural test to determine impairment. Sort of like a little video game to do on the side of the road. Of course that is what all the other stuff cops do at stops ( walk a line, alphabet backward, eye nystagmus, etc) is about but those aren’t lab testy kind of stuff. But a machine that could determine your reflexes and speed would be better since it could pick up on people who were impaired due to other drugs.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Glyph says:

        Yeah, this sort of relates to the question I was mulling – why single weed out?

        Despite state actions, at the federal level it remains a Schedule I drug. IIRC, a California study where the highway patrol stopped drivers at random and asked them to participate in an anonymous drug test with guaranteed no legal consequences found 7% of the people willing to participate tested above 2 ng/ml for THC. A similar percentage tested positive for some level of blood alcohol. These would seem to be lower limits on the actual numbers, since some people who knew they would test positive probably declined to be tested. So… illegal at the federal level under all conditions, and widely used.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Cain says:

          “Illegal” doesn’t really answer the question, though; that’s backwards, mixing up chickens and eggs. For the purposes of driving, we should be concerned about whether a condition makes you a poorer driver (slowed reflexes or spatial/temporal/sensory/perceptual distortions or aggressive risk-taking), not whether the specific substance or circumstance that produced that condition is illegal.

          And the CA study sounds like it tested for illegal drugs, which…QED. I highly doubt more people on the road have smoked pot in the last twelve hours, than have taken *something* in their medicine cabinet with a warning on it in the same time period. And that leaves aside the gazillions of sleepy tired people, old people, people who just got in a fight with their girlfriend/boss, people who drank 5 Red Bulls…

          To be clear, you shouldn’t drive if you are impaired.

          It’s just pretty convenient that we can continue to single out this particular kind of impairment for special treatment over other kinds.Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Glyph says:

            exactly. Sometimes, when migraine is severe, I know I shouldn’t drive. I don’t drive far from home without a migraine prescription with me or I’m prepared to have to stop somewhere and sleep it off or call family for help.

            I’ve had friends go into diabetic shock driving; also not a safe way to drive.

            Impairment would, in my ideal world, be the standard; but that means a potential for each individual situation being judged on it’s own merits. It’s a whole lot easier just to measure somebody’s blood alcohol or (so Tod reports,) swab their cheek.

            Edited to add seizures. We require people who have seizures to prove their under control to be able to drive.Report

            • Avatar morat20 in reply to zic says:

              The whole point of BAC is we know alcohol causes impairment, and we picked an arbitrary point that we though erred more towards safety than not (the maximum legal impairment makes you more likely to get into an accident than none at all, but not nearly so much as, say, double that).

              With THC..well, what’s ‘impaired’ and how does that change the danger?

              If stoned off your mind makes you about as dangerous as just-barely-legal BAC, we do one thing. If slightly stoned makes you the equivalent of blind drunk, we do another. (I’m thinking it’s more the former than the latter, but I’m happy for real data!)

              Lots of things impair your driving. We make a trade-off all the time. Pot shouldn’t be any different.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to morat20 says:

                I just think we are attacking the problem from the wrong side. We know that drowsy driving is as bad as drunk driving, as far as risks. And yet everybody on this blog, I guarantee, has driven drowsy.

                We’d be better off developing a simulator that tests for general “impairment” than chasing the whack-a-moles of this drug or that, which one is legal and which one is not and how much of each and and OH MY GOD, those people who drive under the influence of (illegal) drugs or alcohol are terrible thoughtless people deserving of social sanction, but *I’m* just a driven productive member of society who took my prescribed Adderall then stayed up all night to study or work on a presentation for my meeting tomorrow…Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Glyph says:

                How about a better idea….

                Why don’t we punish folks who actually HARM someone with their, drowsy, distracted, drunk, high, etc. driving rather than being under the influence of said drugs/distraction while operating a vehicle? No harm, no foul.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Damon says:

                Well, that’d be another approach.

                So would simply requiring that all police stops be justified with videorecorded evidence of actual bad driving (weaving outside the lines, excessive or ridiculously-low speed, failure to yield to traffic or control devices) and we base the penalties on the infractions recorded (since weaving, speeding, or failure to yield can definitely cause accidents, whether I’m sober as a churchmouse or not when I do them).Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Glyph says:

                Well no..you’d actually have to HARM, as I said, someone or someone’s property. Otherwise weaving around in traffic, for example, doesn’t cause harm…ergo…no punishment.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Damon says:

                Because people in general and especially people who have tendencies to overuse substances that impair their driving skills are absolutely terrible at linking that behavior to the risk of the harm they do. They don’t think they’re going to get drunk/high/etc and plow into a car loaded with kids right up until the moment they do it. Also they have tolerable odds of perishing in the accident they cause-not much more punishment to be delivered in that case.

                What people in general and to a lesser degree impaired drivers are more conscious of is that they might get busted by the cops and lose the ability to drive. MADD goes over the line (I think they’re rather foolish about drinking age limits personally) but since they began their campaign deaths from drunk driving have declined significantly.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to North says:

                Have drunk driving incidents in toto gone down in that period, or deaths from drunk driving (I’d think the latter could be just as attributable to improved auto safety features as to MADD)?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Glyph says:

                IIRC it’s total accidents as well as deaths Glyph.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to North says:

                So then you just continue the practice of punishing people for doing no actual harm..and all the lovely loss of various constitutional rights that are associated with it…Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Damon says:

                Why don’t we punish folks who actually HARM someone with their, drowsy, distracted, drunk, high, etc. driving rather than being under the influence of said drugs/distraction while operating a vehicle?

                Because there’s too much luck involved. A person can drive drunk for years without causing a crash despite being at elevated risk to do so, whereas another person can behave exactly the same way and cause a fatal accident just because dumb luck handed then different circumstances on the road.

                There’s something to be said for only punishing actually harm, because it better captures factors that a BAC test can’t, like the fact that some people just drive better than others at the same BAC level. But it also has a very strong element of randomness, which we should try to avoid. But then, I’m one of those cranks who thinks the law shouldn’t distinguish between murder and attempted murder.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Brandon Berg: it also has a very strong element of randomness, which we should try to avoid

                This is what I was trying to get my brain around, and couldn’t quite spit out. I have a lot of sympathy for Damon’s underlying point, but to go to the old “my right to swing my fist ends at your nose” thing – if there’s one guy walking down the sidewalk, swinging his arms wildly, that probably shouldn’t be criminalized, people should just avoid him, and we only need concern ourselves with him if he connects with somebody else’s nose.

                Still, we really don’t want EVERYBODY walking down the sidewalk swinging their arms wildly. It makes getting to the corner bodega wildly-inefficient and risky and unnecessarily-stressful for everyone.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                @brandon-berg

                Yes, but driving drunk and not killing anyone isn’t similar to attempted murder so that argument doesn’t hold water.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Glyph says:

                I haven’t, but I’m a poor test subject – I’ve driven maybe 25 times, ever.

                I’m pretty sure I’ve ridden a bicycle drowsy within the last month, though the exercise and fresh air somewhat mitigates that compared to driving.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

                also, a bike can hurt maybe two or three bystanders, on a lucky day. A car can take out a building, man.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Glyph says:

            I wasn’t answering the question “How should it be?” I was answering “Why is it this way?” Schedule I means lots of enforcement money available; a large number of unsophisticated users who drive while “impaired” presents lots of opportunities to catch them. Especially if it’s a zero-tolerance state where “his driving was erratic” and a positive test for metabolites is sufficient evidence. Write the ticket, plea bargain it to something with fewer points against the license, collect $200 and don’t bother with a court appearance.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Glyph says:

        It’s the roadside test for stupidity that I keep hoping for.
        I want to see a lot of people locked away.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Glyph says:

        Glyph:
        Yeah, this sort of relates to the question I was mulling – why single weed out? There are all sorts of common OTC drugs for which operating heavy machinery is contraindicated. Half a Benadryl knocks me out, so I only take it before bed. By almost any metric, there have to be more people driving around under the influence of things like Benadryl, yet no one is clamoring for a cheap easy roadside Breathadylizer.

        I suspect your intuition may be wrong here. People taking prescription or OCT medicines are generally aware of their impairing effects, and generally adjust their behavior accordingly. By contrast, pretty much every marijuana user I’ve talked to about this is eager to insist that being stoned doesn’t impact their ability to drive safely, even though the data makes it clear that marijuana has a significant impairing effect.

        I’m inclined to believe that pot users are by-and-large dismissing valid safety concerns about drugged driving as a by-product of drug war propaganda and not taking appropriate precautions, whereas the same is not true of the folks using benadryl.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Alan Scott says:

          Alan ScottPeople taking prescription or OCT medicines are generally aware of their impairing effects, and generally adjust their behavior accordingly.

          Yeah, I don’t think this is as likely as you do. I thought it was generally accepted that part of the reason legal/OTC/prescription drugs are so often misused and abused is because many people erroneously perceive them as “safe/mild”, in relative comparison to illegal ones. You seem to be assuming that the rest of our medicated society has its head basically screwed on straight and it’s only those silly stoners who fail to realistically and thoughtfully appraise the drugs they ingest.

          I disagree pretty strongly with this assumption, and see it as part and parcel of the othering of those who choose different drugs than the “respectable” “safe” ones.

          Plus, like I said, if drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, then there are plenty of people who should be arrested right now, Benadryl or no.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

      Driving under the influence of typically-consumed quantities of pot is not great, but not nearly as bad as being drunk.

      For example the study cited in http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/10/stoned-driving-nearly-doubles-the-risk-of-a-fatal-crash/ found that being stoned on pot (no obvious controls on how stoned) roughly doubled the risk of serious crashes. Having .08 BAC roughly triples the risk – so you could have a drink or two, be perfectly legal to drive, and be more dangerous than a moderately stoned driver.

      Also there is what probably amounts only to speculation at this point, but states that legalize pot apparently see falling rates of road deaths. The theory goes that people who are going to drive impaired at this point are those undeterred by laws, and they are switching to less-dangerous forms of impairment.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to dragonfrog says:

        @dragonfrog , that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. There’s no particular reason to suppose that impairment correlates linearly with substance use.

        It’s far more likely that alcohol simply impairs a wider variety of cognitive tasks than marijuana does. My guess is that the double-risk vs. triple-risk isn’t so much a measure of how fished up pot makes you vs. how fished up alcohol makes you. Instead, to use @jaybird ‘s examples, the double-risk vs. triple-risk is a difference between the danger of running a red light and the danger of waiting for a stop sign to turn green.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Alan Scott says:

          @alan-scott I agree with your points – I’m just not sure that they’re counterpoints to what I said. Which conclusion do you think I’m mistaken (or at least potentially mistaken) on?Report

          • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to dragonfrog says:

            @dragonfrog , that was specifically a response to this: “so you could have a drink or two, be perfectly legal to drive, and be more dangerous than a moderately stoned driver.”Report

            • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Alan Scott says:

              Ah, I see – yes it could be that there is a very sharp increase in risk starting right around .08, such that someone at .06 or .07 is less than twice as likely to have a serious crash, but someone barely over .08 is three times as likely.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    I recall some research in the UK that suggested driving stoned actually decreased accidents amongst teen/early 20’s men because they slowed down because they were stoned.Report

  4. Avatar Fr33dom says:

    The most recent study “from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concludes that driving after smoking marijuana does not make you more likely to get into a car crash”

    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/02/07/3620555/marijuana-use-in-car-crashes/Report

  5. Avatar Lab Rat says:

    This story summarizes and links to a pdf to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration review of the data.Report

  6. Avatar zic says:

    Tod, from reading the story, I can’t tell if the test detects the joint I smoked five minutes ago or the joint I smoked five days ago.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and, based on the link by @lab-rat above,suggest that this will mostly prove a waste of money, sorta like testing welfare recipients for drugs. Needless red tape and police state; particularly if the test cannot distinguish between someone who’s rushing and someone who had a hit last weekend.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to zic says:

      testing restored comment reply functionality.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to zic says:

      It’s a saliva test, so it will detect active THC but not the inactive metabolites. Unless your metabolism is really strange, a joint five days ago shouldn’t put you anywhere near the legal limit (in Colorado and Washington, 5 ng/ml). So far as I know, all state-specified levels are for blood tests; the relationship between blood- and saliva-levels is not well established, as previous saliva tests were difficult to do accurately. More problematic is that, as I understand things, the THC level spikes and declines fairly quickly while peak impairment lags and then declines more slowly.Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “just about any public policy that can eliminate large chunks of the quarter-million accidental vehicular deaths that occur each decade are treated with pretty near-universal derision”

    Really? Because the only ones who are complaining about seat belt laws, sobriety checkpoints, and the 21 year old drinking age as impermissible and possibly unconstitutional violations of our FREEDUM are us warckaloon libertarians. (and we’re against CAFE standards too, which tilt the scales of death in the other direction).

    The only rollback in our lifetime of the nanny/surveillance state when it comes to driving was the repeal of the 55 mph mandatory speed limit. Other than that, it’s been a ratchet effect of increasing intrusive policies. Policies that do indeed work to lower vehicular deaths, but intrusive policies nonetheless.

    (though now things are becoming more subtle, with traffic cameras and license plate readers that aren’t publicized – compared to click-it or ticket campaigns)Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kolohe says:

      The fact of the matter is that listening to the radio can be a felony offense, depending on what radio is being listened to and how much the listener has had to drink.

      Although I feel that a lot of radio should be a felony offense anyway, still this is a bit much.Report

  8. Avatar Zac says:

    Ok, I guess I’ll out myself here. Let me preface this by saying I don’t know if my experiences with the matter are at all representative.

    I drive stoned quite regularly (hell, I’ve already done so once today). In fact, in the past ten years, I’d estimate I’ve driven stoned literally thousands of times. Never once have I gotten into an accident while doing so, or even had a close call. If anything, I suspect I’m probably a better driver stoned than sober. Why? Because when I’m stoned, the last thing I need is to get pulled over, so I drive very cautiously. When I’m sober, I drive like an asshole, because I’m an anxious, angry person at the wheel by nature (I always joke that it’s a good thing I don’t keep a gun in my car, because if I did I’d use it to fire “warning shots” at other drivers). When I’m baked, it sucks the road rage right out of me.Report

  9. zic: Impairment would, in my ideal world, be the standard; but that means a potential for each individual situation being judged on it’s own merits. It’s a whole lot easier just to measure somebody’s blood alcohol or (so Tod reports,) swab their cheek.

    I don’t think it’s that those sorts of tests are easier. I think it’s a combination of the following:
    1. We don’t want to catch old (or otherwise not-their-fault) people who maybe cannot pass a test of non-impairment through any fault of their own.
    2. Breathalyzer and THC blood tests are science-y and require expensive equipment. Asking to someone to touch their nose feels comparatively neolithic.

    But those impairment tests have the benefit of actually testing the thing you are concerned about rather than something you think is correlated with something you are concerned about.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    The problem of stoned people driving could be ended overnight, if only 7-11 made deliveries!Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    FWIW,
    I’ve never heard the DUI argument even discussed with regards to legalization. Not even here.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kazzy says:

      I have. When I heard it, the concept originated with some policy wonks in the DC area (solid Dems, the Congressman they worked for was more well-known for strong views on gun control).
      And it took me awhile to wrap my head around it, but once I did, I agree.
      The argument is that everything that is dangerous to do in a car is already illegal; e.g., speeding, swerving, not yielding right-of-way, etc. DUI laws are simply unnecessary.

      When I thought it through, it makes more sense to have intoxication as an aggravating factor in sentencing than a separate offense by itself.
      In fact, this method could easily deal with all sorts of chemical impairment rather than strictly alcohol.Report

  12. Avatar Will H. says:

    Was reading through the school newspaper and came across an item of interest– They’re talking about re-opening the Mary Jane Cafe in the basement of the library.

    I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of Mary Jane in the library basement.Report

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