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Radical Rant: The “Stoned Mayhem On Freeways” Anti-Marijuana Argument

Russ Belville

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In my prior Rants, I took a look at two common prohibitionist arguments – the “No Third Legal Drug” Argument and the “What About the Children?” Argument.

Today, let’s tackle the “Stoned Mayhem on Freeways” Argument, something I like to call SMOF.

SMOF is one of the few remaining arguments our opponents have that is somewhat effective. We reformers bear some of the blame for this attack, as well.

For years, one of our rallying cries has been to “treat marijuana like alcohol.” It’s good rhetoric from the perspective of getting people who know nothing about marijuana, to accept the idea of legalizing it.

The problem is that it introduces alcohol framing into the marijuana discussion. This is especially problematic when it comes to the ways marijuana is superior to, not “like,” alcohol.

For instance, marijuana use doesn’t really lead to the same levels of impaired physicality as alcohol. Moreover, it doesn’t lead to the type of impaired judgment as alcohol.

But through repeating “treat marijuana like alcohol”, we’ve made an implicit association between the two. We’ve introduced to people who have no understanding of marijuana the idea that it’s “like alcohol”.

So now they want to know how we’re going to prevent the same mayhem on the freeways we experience from alcohol abuse.

But as you and I (and science) know, there isn’t any stoned mayhem on the freeways to be worried about, because if there were, it would have happened by now.

“Legalization doesn’t invent cars and marijuana,” I often say on my show when this topic comes up. If people were going to be driving high, they’ve already been doing it. It would seem that since the 1960s, there haven’t been reports of increasing wrecks and deaths as there has been a stark increase in marijuana smoking.

In fact, national traffic fatalities have been in decline for a couple of decades now. Much of this owes to safer cars, strict drunk driving laws, and better roads. But if marijuana use were leading to increased road risks, it’s not reflected in the statistics. As it turns out, the legal states of Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska all have lower per-mile traffic death rates than the national average.

If the people you’re discussing this with still aren’t convinced, whip out your phone and pull up this YouTube video from Seattle station KIRO. In it, they took three cannabis consumers on a test drive track with a driving instructor. The consumers included an infrequent toker, an occasional monthly smoker, and an all-day every day medical marijuana patient. A Washington State trooper trained in drug recognition supervised the tests.

The patient showed up for the test at 15 nanograms of THC in her blood and performed perfectly well. Eventually, after repeated tokes between tests, she managed to drive poorly enough for the cop to say she was “borderline." That was at 56 nanograms in her system.

Washington State’s legal limit for driving is just 5 nanograms.

In other words, this young lady was driving fine at 11 times the legal limit.

Do you know how well you drive at 11 times the legal alcohol limit? Perfectly, because you’re dead of alcohol overdose and the hearse driver is escorting you to the cemetery.

But the general public, primed by this “treat marijuana like alcohol” chant, now wants to do just that and establish a marijuana breathalyzer. Washington and Colorado have already established those 5 nanogram limits, while Oregon and Alaska managed to keep them at bay.

These limits are unnecessary, unjust and unscientific, and the governments implementing them know this. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration itself advises that impairment from cannabis cannot be judged simply by measuring it in someone’s blood, urine, or saliva.

The problem is that marijuana is metabolized differently by different people at different times. The 5 nanograms in the newbie who hasn’t toked in decades is going to leave him or her too impaired to drive. The 5 nanograms in my system when I first wake up in the morning isn’t impairing me at all.

But both of us would earn a DUID in Washington State if we’re suspected of impairment, pulled over, and tested. Or if through no fault of our own we’re run in to and then tested.

When pot smokers do become too impaired, they’re not like the drunks you have to fight with to get their keys. The drunks have impaired judgment that makes them think they’re “good enough to drive”. In lab tests of stoned driving, the researchers have to encourage the too-stoned people to drive because they tend to refuse.

The key to defeating SMOF is to underscore that 1) marijuana ain’t alcohol, it doesn’t impair in the same manner; 2) marijuana already exists and we don’t have an epidemic of stoned car crashes; and 3) driving while impaired by marijuana is already illegal, legalization doesn’t change that.

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