Drunk and Drugged Driving Arrests Fall in Washington As Anti-Pot Group Warns That Legalization Undermines Road Safety



The anti-pot group Project SAM claims recent data from Washington show that marijuana legalization makes the roads more dangerous. According to State Toxicologist Fiona Couper, the share of drivers charged with driving under the influence of a drug whose blood tested positive for THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, rose from 18.6 percent in 2012, the year that voters approved legalization, to 24.9 percent in 2013. That's an increase of more than 33 percent, as Project SAM emphasizes with a scary-looking bar graph. By comparison, the THC-positive share rose by 6.6 percent between 2009 and 2010, rose by 4.1 percent between 2010 and 2011, and fell by 7.9 percent between 2011 and 2012. "Even before the first marijuana store opens in Washington, normalization and acceptance has set in," says Project SAM Chairman Patrick J. Kennedy. "This is a wakeup call for officials and the public about the dangerousness of this drug, especially when driving."

In truth, these numbers do not tell us anything about the dangerousness of marijuana. They could merely reflect an increase in consumption. If more Washingtonians are smoking pot, more drivers will test positive for THC, which does not necessarily mean they are impaired. The cutoff for a positive test result is two nanograms per milliliter of blood, less than half the level set by Washington's new per se standard for DUID, which itself is not necessarily a good indicator of impairment.

Assuming that marijuana consumption in Washington rose between 2012 and 2013, can that increase be attributed to legalization? Supplying recreational marijuana remains illegal until the first state-licensed shops open later this year, and I-502, Washington's legalization measure, does not allow people to grow their own. But it has already eliminated penalties for possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 or older, which may have had an impact on consumption.

A key question in assessing the impact of legalization on road safety is whether more pot smoking will mean less drinking. If so, the net result could be fewer traffic fatalities, even if there is an increase in the number of stoned drivers, because alcohol has a more dramatic effect on driving ability than marijuana does. A study published last year by the Journal of Law & Economics found that adoption of medical marijuana laws is associated with a decline in traffic fatalities, possibly because of such a substitution effect.

Washington State Patrol

According to data from the Washington State Patrol, the number of drunk driving arrests by that agency fell from 17,382 in 2012 to 15,401 in 2013, an 11 percent drop. By comparison, the number of drunk driving arrests fell by 2 percent between 2009 and 2010, stayed about the same between 2010 and 2011, and fell by 6 percent between 2011 and 2012. Although the drop in drunk driving arrests after marijuana legalization looks unusually large, it should be interpreted with caution, since the number of arrests is partly a function of enforcement levels, which depend on funding and staffing. Still, the drop is consistent with substitution of marijuana for alcohol.

The number of DUID arrests by state police also fell after legalization, from 1,621 in 2012 to 1,357 in 2013, a 16 percent drop. By comparison, DUID arrests stayed about the same from 2009 to 2010, rose by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011, and fell by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012. Again, enforcement levels might have something to do with the drop. But these numbers do not suggest that Washington's highways are awash with dangerously stoned drivers.

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  1. Of all the things to be passionate about, why does a person spend so much time trying to persuade other of the evils of getting high?

    1. He never got invited to parties when he was in high school.

  2. Of course, these numbers don’t have any scientific validity. If I smoked a bunch of weed last night (and I did), what will my THC blood numbers be today? I’m no longer stoned, but will I test positive? Who the fuck knows? I’d best not get pulled over.

    1. Your state is almost as bad as mine.

    2. Why do I feel that somehow you personally account for the reduction? Were you out of town at the time?

      1. I only drive when drunk or coked out. That helps the numbers. There was this one time I was driving on I-5 while still coked up, and I thought “if a cop pulls me over, I’ll just pretend to be drunk!”

        1. For some reason, I find this plausible.

          1. You should, because it’s true. Unfortunately, that was some shitty coke. The guy who was generously sharing it with me (and others) had previously had some of the best coke I’ve ever had, but this time he had some seriously stepped on garbage. I guess beggars can’t be choosers.

        2. This sounds incredibly dangerous and irresponsible.

          1. Aw, you’re no fun.

    3. My understanding is that we’re talking about two different tests.

      The THC test (blood test I believe) tests for active THC. As the THC is metabolized after smoking, it is no longer detected by this test.

      The metabolites are what can be detected for weeks after smoking.

      Two different tests.

      1. But I think that actual, unmetabolized THC still shows up after you are no longer subjectively stoned. So if you smoked a lot last night, you might still test above the limit today. Lots of drugs have half-lives longer than the noticeable effects.

        Then there is tolerance and habituation. There are people who I wouldn’t ride with after they took one hit and there are people who I would happily ride with while they chain-smoke joints.

  3. OT, but you gotta see this incredible level of derp at HuffPo.

    1. You know Popeye was smacking Olive Oyl around. Come on. Spinach makes you crazy.

      1. In his defense, who doesn’t want to punch Shelly Duvall when they see that movie?

        1. I kind of want to punch Robin Williams more. What a strange thing for Altman to do. I mean, if you love Popeye, as I do, why would you Williams him?

          NANOO NANOO

          1. Okay, that’s a good question. Assuming we’re talking now, who would you cast as Popeye?

            1. Russell Crowe?

              1. He’d make a decent Bluto.

            2. In 1980? That’s a tough one. How about Hoffman?

              1. Now being 2014. Did that mailbox rebound into your head?

                1. The poorly constructed sentence you wrote gave me the impression that the two of you were having a lovers quarrel.

                  I’d cast Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

                  1. Kenneth Branagh. Actor/director.

            3. Hugh Jackman?

              1. Pee-Wee Herman

            1. That’s Hong Kong, so Jackie Chan as Popeye.

            2. It’s Genndy Tartakovsky (of Samurai Jack fame), so animated.

    2. At least the comments have a modicum of sense.

      1. I tried trolling them but the bait hasn’t been taken yet.

        But it’s HuffPo, so I’m sure it will.

  4. The younger Kennedys always look so inbred.

    1. Don’t inbreeding and royalty go together ?


  5. The lesson to be learned here is one that somewhat applies to drinking and driving as well:

    Any hard limit that defines someone with more than a certain concentration of a substance as DUI (or DUID) is misguided and pointless (unless the desired goal is merely to put people in jail, regardless of whether or not they deserve it or have endangered anybody).

    This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have DUI (or DUID) laws. It does mean that we shouldn’t have per-se limits. Instead, let cops show juries (preferably by dash-cam video) just how badly a suspect was driving when he/she got pulled over. If they can’t do that, let him/her go.

    1. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have DUI (or DUID) laws. It does mean that we shouldn’t have per-se limits. Instead, let cops show juries (preferably by dash-cam video) just how badly a suspect was driving when he/she got pulled over. If they can’t do that, let him/her go.

      This confuses me. On the one hand, you’re saying that we should keep DUI and per-se limits, but on the other hand, you just want to make bad driving the crime. Which do you want? It seems to me that someone with a .12 may be more capable of driving safely than someone driving with two kids in the back talking on the phone.

      1. This confuses me.

        Seems clear enough to me.

        If a person has been drinking and shows signs of impairment, bust them. No signs, no bust.
        Bust them for impairment, not BAC.

        If someone can’t help but to be distracted while talking on the phone while driving, ticket them. If someone can drive safely while talking on the phone, let them.
        Ticket them for being distracted, not for talking on the phone.

        Of course that would never fly in our legal system, but it’s not confusing.

    2. Yes!! Let’s leave it up to cops!

      1. He did say, “let the cops show juries”…

        1. Well, yeah, but how? Testimony? Doctored up police reports? I’d say there’s only a small % of cases where there’s dashcam footage of obviously erratic driving. Police already use a host of phony “evidence” to lock people up. Putting the entire thing in their hands? No thanks.

          1. I’d say there’s only a small % of cases where there’s dashcam footage of obviously erratic driving

            Bingo. Are you worried that prosecutors’ stats might go down?

    3. I think the limit should be a floor, as in you have to at least show the limit, in addition to dangerous driving. I’d rather put a minimum on the cops discretion, so people at least have some certainty in whether they can be charged. I think it’s worth letting off dangerous drivers below the limit (for DUI) for not potentially wasting people’s time in court defending against charges.

    4. Good thing Dunphy is busy with his international surfing championships.

  6. I just can’t past a Kennedy as moral scold.

    1. I still can’t believe people actually elected this asshole for something.

  7. “Legalization Undermines Road Safety”

    Pour yourself a drink, sit back in your leather armchair, and reflect upon this fact =

    This is the best they can come up with

    1. And they are losing.

  8. Let not let those pesky facts get in the way of the narrative.

  9. Circling the drain, the prohibitionist is still kicking and screaming for attention.

  10. “Washington’s legalization measure, does not allow people to grow their own…”

    If I may go off-topic (what the hell is the topic??) this is a subject I’ve yet to see addressed with the legalization crowd. Will our masters allow us to grow our own? Or will there be a goobermint enforced legal cartel now?

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