Safety Hook

The politics of "drugged driving"


If John P. Walters has his way, Friday night tokers will no longer be fired for failing Monday morning drug tests. Instead they'll be arrested on the way to work.

At a November press conference the federal drug czar announced an interagency, public-private campaign against "drugged driving." Along with TV spots that began airing in January and research aimed at developing "new technologies to identify drug-impaired drivers in the field," the initiative includes "model legislation" that treats drivers with any trace of illegal drugs in their systems as if they were intoxicated.

Eight states currently have such "zero tolerance" laws, while the rest require additional evidence of impairment, since the presence of metabolites does not necessarily indicate that someone is unfit to drive. Marijuana metabolites, for example, can be detected three or more days after a single dose and weeks after a period of regular use—long after any effect on driving ability has worn off. But as far as Walters is concerned, pot smokers should not drive, period.

That view was also endorsed by Michael Walsh, former executive director of the President's Drug Abuse Advisory Council. Now a private drug testing consultant, Walsh was the lead author of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report on drugged driving that was released the week before Walters' press conference. "If DUID [driving under the influence of drugs] laws were consistent and easier to apply," Walsh said, "we could identify these individuals and get them into treatment before they become a serious threat to public safety."

After all, why wait until someone threatens public safety before you arrest him?