With marijuana legalization on the horizon in Washington and Colorado, plus more and more states adopting medical legalization of marijuana, the prohibitionists are trotting out the scare of “What About the Stoned Drivers?!?” It’s an effective scare – exit polls for Prop 19 showed that failure to address the issue caused many undecided voters to vote “no” on legalization. In response, strategists for Washington’s I-502 included a controversial 5ng/mL impairment standard of THC in blood. Colorado’s strategists did not, so their legislature is reviving a 5ng/mL impairment standard bill that died the previous session.
What it isn’t is an accurate scare. Foremost, “What About the Stoned Drivers?!?” is built on a false premise that once we legalize marijuana, suddenly there will be stoned drivers. It’s as if without legalization, there are no pot smokers, which, of course, is ludicrous. There are 26 million of us smoking pot every year, 17 million every month, and 2.6 million every day. So if there are people driving stoned, they are driving stoned now.
Second, we already have the means to catch stoned drivers. Prosecutors in California win 4-out-of-5 DUID prosecutions, in Colorado the success rate is closer to 9-out-of-10, and nobody can deny those states have very active cannabis cultures that are the closest America currently has to legalization.
Third, if someone is so dedicated to following the law that they aren’t going to smoke pot until it is legalized, then why are they going to break the DUID law?
Fourth, studies show that pot smoking drivers aren’t that big of a threat anyway. The risk of even the most drug-impaired driver ranks around the risk of a 0.05 blood-alcohol driver, whom we don’t automatically assume is impaired under law. Stoned drivers in one study did just as well on the driving simulator tests as they did when they were sober. Stoned drivers tend to drive slower and leave more room between cars in traffic
Fifth, the scary stats that the prohibitionists will throw at you regarding how many drivers in fatal accidents had pot in their system are irrelevant. Since pot can be detected in your system long after any impairing effects have worn off, all those stats tell us is lots of people who drive cars also smoke pot. Even the Department of Transportation says trying to evaluate impairment on cannabis based on body chemistry is “inadvisable”.
An estimated one in six fatal crashes — nearly 17 percent — involves a drowsy driver, which is about four to five times higher than previous studies have found. And drowsy drivers are involved in one in eight crashes that result in serious injury, the report found.
The report found that 41 percent of respondents admitted to falling asleep or nodding off while driving at some point in their lives. One in 10 acknowledged doing so in the past year. More than a quarter (27 percent) of those surveyed admitted that in the previous month they drove despite being so tired that they had difficulty keeping their eyes open.
Thomas J. Balkin, a sleep researcher and chairman of the National Sleep Foundation… said there is some suggestion that people are more sleep deprived than 30 to 40 years ago, when the average amount of sleep was about eight hours a night. Today, it is about seven hours. “People on the lower end, who get about five to six hours a night, pose a danger to themselves and others,” he said.
But nobody wants to address that danger on the freeways. Why are people only getting 5-7 hours of sleep? Because they have to work two jobs, or they have to work a job and raise a kid, or they have to work a job and go to school, or just because they work in the hyper-competitive American workforce that considers 40-hour weeks a slacker luxury and more than two weeks of vacation something only lazy Socialist Europeans do.
Besides, if you’re sleepy, you can just get a Five Hour Energy Shot – a concentrated caffeine-guarana-taurine blend whose commercials show happy people at work hitting that “2:30pm feeling”, quaffing a shot, and being alert and energized for work… even the guy driving the semi down the freeway!
Nope, we can accept someone working 10-14-hour days and driving a 2-hour commute and chasing coffee and energy drinks to try to stay alert on the freeways, because that contributes to corporate America’s bottom line. More work out of fewer workers means corporate profits. We can even accept taverns with parking lots, knowing people will drive there to get drunk and not all of them will have a designated driver. We’ll promote alcohol at sporting events that people drove to and let them drink beer in the parking lots and the stadium before they leave. We can accept all the danger of serving alcohol at places you drive to because, again, there is corporate profit to be made.
Yet a driver who may have smoked marijuana a minute or a month ago can have his licensed revoked and his ass in jail in some states if a molecule of marijuana metabolite shows up on a pee test. Not because he’s any sort of serious danger on the freeways, especially compared to the sleepy or drunk driver. No, because accepting the truth that the marijuana driver is relatively benign is to invite legalization of something very threatening to many corporations’ bottom line.