Marijuana

Stop Pretending Sober Drivers Are Stoned

States with legal pot should not define DUI based on a "mythical link" between THC blood levels and impairment.

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Last year Kali Su Schram was sentenced to six months in jail because of a fatal traffic accident she did not cause, thanks to Michigan's unjust and unscientific definition of drugged driving. Schram had the right of way when a bicyclist suddenly appeared in front of her at an intersection, but she was blamed anyway because she had a detectable amount of THC in her blood.

California, where state-licensed marijuana stores began serving recreational consumers on Monday, takes a more rational approach to driving under the influence of cannabis, requiring evidence of impairment. But three of the eight states where marijuana is legal for nonmedical use have adopted versions of the Michigan model, falsely equating impairment with arbitrary levels of THC in the blood.

In Michigan any amount of THC suffices for a DUI conviction. The cutoff in Nevada, where legal recreational sales began last year, is two nanograms per milliliter, which is not quite as strict but still criminalizes driving by many marijuana users who pose no threat to the public.

Because THC is absorbed by fatty tissue, it can be detected in the blood of frequent cannabis consumers as long as a month after last use. In a 2009 study, a frequent pot smoker had a THC level of seven nanograms on the first day of abstinence, then between two and four nanograms during the next six days.

A 2015 study found that a cannabis consumer tested at or above five nanograms as long as five days after last use. Five nanograms is the legal cutoff in Washington, where any driver who hits that level is automatically guilty of DUI.

Colorado allows juries to infer impairment at a THC level of five nanograms or more but lets defendants rebut that inference. In 2015 Melanie Brinegar, a medical marijuana patient who tested at 19 nanograms after she was pulled over for driving with an expired tag, used the latter provision to win an acquittal.

Even though Brinegar's THC concentration was nearly four times the level that Colorado treats as presumptively equivalent to driving under the influence, she persuaded a jury that she wasn't. In 2013 KIRO-TV, the CBS station in Seattle, found that regular cannabis consumers could pass driving tests at even higher THC levels.

Nor does a five-nanogram rule make sense for less frequent users. According to experiments at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Iowa City, occasional cannabis consumers with THC levels exceeding 13 nanograms, more than twice Washington's cutoff, show lane weaving similar to drinkers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, the usual DUI threshold.

"Per se" rules that define stoned driving based on THC in the blood appeal to politicians and the general public because they look similar to state laws that define drunk driving based on alcohol in the blood. But the latter policy, while problematic because of individual variability, has a much stronger scientific basis.

"Whereas the impairment effects for various concentration levels of alcohol in the blood or breath are well understood," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes, "there is little evidence available to link concentrations of other drugs to driver performance." Hence "specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment."

A 2016 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety noted that THC blood levels do not predict performance on roadside sobriety tests. It said "there is no evidence from the data collected…that any objective threshold exists that established impairment."

As Staci Hoff, research director at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, noted in a TV interview last summer, "More and more research is coming out debunking this mythical link between THC level in the blood and level of impairment." Instead of adopting pseudoscientific DUI standards that unfairly and irrationally treat sober drivers as if they were stoned, states that legalize marijuana should follow California's example by requiring proof that people accused of endangering public safety actually did.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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100 responses to “Stop Pretending Sober Drivers Are Stoned

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  1. Do they differentiate between active THC and metabolites? I think not.

    1. You wouldn’t know it from the article, but Michigan DOES distinguish. The presumption in the article only applies to active THC in Michigan.

  2. Of course, being rational about THC levels and impairment might lead to being rational about alcohol levels and impairment, a d that would NEVER do…..

  3. I prefer the standard of …if you hit something or someone or by your actions cause someone else to hit someone or something, you’re too fucking stoned/drunk/elderly/impaired to drive…always better to be lucky than stupid!

    1. The ol’ drunk driving paradox. Hit someone sober, get a fine. Hit someone drunk, go to jail. Don’t hit anyone drunk, still go to jail.

      1. The same as if you stand in the middle of a crowded mall randomly firing a gun and do not hit anyone, you go to jai.

        1. Not quite. Driving is an extremely dangerous activity regardless of whether or not anyone on the road is intoxicated & is a leading cause of death for several age groups. Walking in a mall is not a dangerous activity. Based on the thousands upon thousands of drunk driving arrests around the coubtry, we can reasonably infer that man people drive drunk. Mass shootings are incredibly rare despite media claims to the opposite.
          The normality of drunk driving & the imminent risk of dricing an automobile both speak toward the irrationality of drunk driving laws. Even if drunk driving were more dangerous than say, being old & operating an automobile (or being sick, tired, distracted, experiencing glare, etc) – its not – a rational observer would still have to question the justice of any law which incarcerates abbehavior exhibited by a massive portion of the population. Such crimes cannot be police in an equitable manner & are often a cover for going after an unpopular population (blacks & gun laws eg).
          If we truly care about ending the risk posed by drunk drivers wr shouldnproceed posthaste w eliminating regulatory barriers for things like uber & dricerless cars. As always, the actual solution to a social problem lies not in regulation or incarceration but in innovation.

          1. Although driverless cars will be on the road in my lifetime there complete adoption may not occur in my lifetime. We are likely to see less wealthy ppl using driven cars many decades after driverless cars are normalized. As the process of replacement occurs, deaths related to drunk driving will be less & less a reality.
            I care to make a wager. As this process occurs itis my contention that groups like MADD & their collaborators in police departments & local government will not accede that the problem they failed to solve was addressed successfully by those w less of an interest in the use of violence against their fellow man. My hunch is that these groups will become MORE histrionic as the problem dissipates, claiming that only the force & fury of damnation can save us from Demon Rum. Theyll find new substances to foist the problem on – like pot. They will claim that the use of a dricerless car while drunk should also be a crime despite a complete lack of danger. The kidnapping & violent extortion rackets that the state has built out of driven cars is too well established & too valuable for too many to simply stop it.

            1. No, the nanny hags of MADD will simply move on to demanding laws that require at least eight hours of sleep before driving. Thus the nanny states continues to grow.

  4. “In 2013 KIRO-TV, the CBS station in Seattle, found that regular cannabis consumers could pass driving tests at even higher THC levels.”

    REAL journalists; doing the lord’s work.

    1. Subpar journalists even.

  5. We do need to find a good way to measure this, though. The “what are stoned drivers going to do? go under the speed limit?” sarcastic rhetoric is bullshit. I’ve driven with plenty of stoned people who clearly shouldn’t have been driving. It’s an actual issue, and the only major issue with marijuana legalization that I think we need to figure out. I don’t think it’s a big enough issue to prevent legalization now, but we can’t simply tut-tut this one away.

    1. Reason: “Marijuana usage has no negative effects, ever. And if it does, we certainly are not going to admit it.”

      So, is there any rationsl test of sobriety for cannibis?

      1. No there currently isn’t, and it’s a serious problem we need to figure out.

        1. I’d like to at least see evidence that it’s a serious problem (i.e. actual evidence that stoned drivers are significantly more likely to cause accidents than they would be if they weren’t stoned) before deciding that it’s a problem that needs a solution.

          1. Spoken like an actual libertarian. Well done sir.

          2. Well, there is this:

            “Nor does a five-nanogram rule make sense for less frequent users. According to experiments at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Iowa City, occasional cannabis consumers with THC levels exceeding 13 nanograms, more than twice Washington’s cutoff, show lane weaving similar to drinkers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, the usual DUI threshold.”

            (Mildly) stoned or drunk, fuckers have a harder time staying in their lane. And where I live, with most driving on winding two lane “highways” people who cross the center line cause about 1 tragic wreck a week.

          3. the numbers to prove stoned driving is a problem, would be hard to get since most stoned people also drink and end up being arrested for the alcohol part since its easier to prove impairment

          4. You living on Mars if you think some stoned bro is good to drive. It’s like willfully putting fingers in your ears. Either that or you have never met someone high before.

            1. “…some stoned bro is good to drive.” That is racist, yo.

    2. There needs to be a nationally adopted field impairment test, that studies show is a definite indicator of the ability to safely pilot an automobile.
      It would be applicable to any mind altering substance, including prescription ones, and would be something someone could test themselves on, before they drive a car.
      If the driver fails, the test needs to be repeated, as soon as possible, on camera, so that there can be no doubt in a jury’s mind that the driver was impaired.
      This would allow legal driving for a user, that had a tolerance for a substance, such that they wouldn’t be impaired, while someone else might be unable to drive, at the same level of concentration.
      After all, isn’t it impairment we are looking for, not an arbitrary level in the blood-stream.

    3. We shouldn’t have some arbitrary limit like we do with alcohol, and in fact that limit should be gotten rid of as well. It should be based entirely on dangerous driving, along with mandating that there be good video footage of said dangerous driving.

  6. No one’s “pretending” you pretentious twits.

    The process is being worked out. A ‘safe’ level hasn’t been needed on this scale before this–the process of figuring out how to determine impairment will not be pretty.

    But it has to be done.

    So stop whining about it.

    1. Exactly. It is the only actual issue left to figure out. People stoned out of their minds are every bit as dangerous driving as shit faced people. I still think we should legalize it because the problems solved by legalization still vastly outweigh this problem, but many on the pro-legalization are too quick to deny that there are any problems with weed.

      It’s like the people who claim it is a miracle drug that cures cancer and can prevent HIV and shit. There are plenty of actual reasons to legalize it that don’t involve bullshit fact-free claims no better than the “weed makes you stupid” arguments from the other side.

    2. Overall, I rhink you are correct. On the other hand, complete zero tolerance of any level of THC seems to be a backdoor way to maintain prohibition while giving plausible denisbility that you are not.

    3. If people are testing over the limit after 5 days not using, then yes, they are pretending that sober people are stoned.

      1. There is no reason why rationality should interfere with reflexive authoritarianism. Only some kinda moron would think that anything other than violent kidnapping on the basis of an arbitrary pretext set by state-licensed charlatans could address this issue. Its what we have always done, therefore it is the only thing that can be done.

        1. Srsly though, there is a preexisting body of law called “reckless driving”. You may have heard of it. Doesnt require intoxication. Does require actual dangerous driving. There is no social reason why we need a separate body of law for intoxicated drivers. The actual reason why we dont rely on these laws now is that DUI does not require a driver to be operating his or her vehicle in a dangerous manner; we know all drunk drivers are dangerous because they are drunk (google tautology). It also allows for the creation of a draconian set of punishments designed specifically for drunks & addicts. After all it wouldnt do for little Johnny to have to spend his allowance on special insurance for drag racing when hes home from boarding school; thats for commoners.
          Even if you dont buy any of that, existing DUI laws have been used to convict drivers under the influence of everything from opiates to robatussin (google it). Thats what the roadside impairment test is for – it is a magical mystery tour of make believe psuedo science that concludes with the police officer using their “judgement” to infer intoxication. This same charlatan act could be used to heave stoners in the clink; originally thiswhole “crisis” was dreamed up to keep MJ prohibition in place. After that failed, cops realized they could use the MJ blood baloney to terrorize that same community of peaceful pot smokers they always had. Dont be conned.

      2. If people are testing over the limit after 5 days not using, then yes, they are pretending that sober people are stoned.

        Except that’s not what’s happening.

        They’re saying it can happen.

        And, right now, it can.

        Because we don’t have a reliable standard yet. Getting one will take time.

        But no one is deliberately “pretending” anything.

        1. There is no way to devise a reasonable standard. It’s impossible. Changing the amount of THC in the blood needed to trigger conviction doesn’t address the fact that there simply is no correlation between the amount of THC in the blood and impairment. None. At all. Zero.

          1. Then the ‘reasonable standard’ won’t wind up being ABOUT THC in the blood.

            We’re devising it now.

            Are you not getting this?

            While we’re figuring it out, all kinds of mistakes will be made. That’s the nature of the beast.

    4. I’m pretending that you’re smart!

    5. “…the process of figuring out how to determine impairment will not be pretty.”

      Yeah, kinda like the ever declining BAC percentage levels despite the reduced levels having no bearing on the reality of risk.

      “But it has to be done.” which is more often conveyed as a pathetically frantic “We have to do something.” because that is always better than doing nothing because it creates an opportunity to fuck somebody. Hey, you cannot put a price on a false sense of security but I can.

      One prison guard’s glove fits all. Now, bend over.

  7. Hopefully “activist judges” will start seeing these due process violations for what they are.

  8. Breath and blood tests for all drugs are set by law because of the ease of enforcement, not their quality of inferring impairment.

    Proving someone’s too drunk/stoned to drive is hard.

    Proving someone’s breathalyzer is above 0.08 is easy.

    1. Now reduced to 0.05% in fucktarded Utah.

      1. It should be 0.00. If you drink you shouldn’t drive, don’t be such an impulsive asshole with no ability to control your drinking urges.

        1. Really? So, if I stop at the bar and have s bet after work that’s it? I’m a better driver drunk and stoned than half the sober idiots.

        2. JoeGofuckYourself, authoriatiarn cunt.
          Slither back to The Federalist.

        3. JoeBlow123 says, “If you drink you shouldn’t drive,..”

          Now tell me about how my brain on drugs is like an egg, Joe Bumpersticker

          Cop asks, “Sir, have you been drinking?”

          Me: “No, but you can blow me anyway.” Gets a laugh every time but it will be between the cops after your tazing.

  9. No one should drive impaired, but actual impairment should be measured, and the level of impairment from cannabis that is criminalized should be the same as the level of impairment for the .08 blood alcohol level. How to measure impairment? Read on!

    I have developed a new public health app that measures actual impairment–it is called DRUID (an acronym for “DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs”) available now in the App Store and in Google Play. DRUID measures reaction time, decision making, hand-eye coordination, time estimation and balance, and then statistically integrates hundreds of data points into an overall impairment score. DRUID takes just 2 minutes.

    NORML of California is promoting DRUID on their website and is encouraging cannabis users to download it.
    Our website is http://www.druidapp.com

    DRUID was featured this past December on Spokane Public Radio: http://nwpr.org/post/progress-…..ent-tool-0

    After obtaining my Ph.D. at Harvard, I have been a professor of psychology at UMass/Boston for the past 40 years, specializing in research methods, measurement and statistics.

    Michael Milburn, Professor
    Department of Psychology
    UMass/Boston

  10. If California is the “reasonable actor” in all of this then we’re all screwed.

  11. Well, after all, the laws are for the convenience of the cops and prosecutors, not to keep us safe.

    “driving impaired” is a bogus charge. Actions are what should be criminalized, not conditions that ignore the fact that metabolism is unique to an individual, and ignores other factors like rest and anger.
    If someone is crossing into other lanes, speeding, ignoring traffic signs/controls, then cite them for those actions. It should not matter how much they smoked or drank in the last hour/day/week; what are they actually DOING at this time?

    1. I got a better solution, how bout some self control and don’t get high or drunk if you want to drive? Its a real doozy.

      1. How about go fuck yourself and save your demonizing for the Sunday service. Joe Blow?

    2. Driving is an action. Driving impair is also an action. You’re not some passive participant when you drive a car, and having consumed something that impairs your ability to drive safely is a perfectly valid public safety concern.

  12. Doood, I can drive man, I can drive…..did I do that?

    1. “I can drive…..did I do that?”

      Doood, relax. My old man is a television repair man, he has an ultimate set of tools.. I can fix it! – Spicoli.

  13. Everyone just insisted on getting the goddamn government involved, didn’t they? I mean, to quote Jon Stewart, “Has anyone ever really had a problem finding weed?”.

    1. The perils of the “Tax Our Weed” movement.

      I watched a news item last night on local LA news. It showed LA pot vendors lined up waiting to pay $9k for a vending license before they could sell. The state and local politicians are drooling over the promised tax revenues.

      I predict that in five years, 99% of these small, independent growers and dealers will be out of business, AFTER Costco, Walmart, CVS, and Ralph’s Market start offering the stuff. Then you will have BigCorp weed sold by BigCorp retail. Shit, order it off of eBay and pay with PayPal. Enjoy! Ha ha ha.

  14. It’s additionally cruel and unjust for a sane, sober person to be charged with “drugged driving” after they have endured the psychological trauma of injuring or killing another person in their car, whether it was or wasn’t their fault, because of blood THC levels.

    The lack of scientific credibility begins to make more sense with just a glance of other laws.

  15. Nobody, including the police, cared about the issue of cannabis and driving until legalization became a looming reality. Then suddenly “cannabis impaired driving” became the cause celebre of the prohibitionists. If cannabis was a causal factor in car crashes this would have been on the radar 5 decades ago.

  16. THC / cannabis / marijuana definitely does affect one’s awareness. It definitely lowers one’s analytical capabilities, whether one is driving, reading a book, watching TV or talking with a friend. Anyone who has consumed marijuana should be able to attest to that.

    If it’s still detectable for a month, then the individual shouldn’t drive for a month. Personally, I suspect it’s much longer than a month, But if one consumes the drug, then one should take responsibility for one’s actions for having done so, whether it’s a day, a week or 10 years. The solution is just don’t take the drug. If one is taking it for medicinal reasons, then 1) Find another solution to one’s medical problems than taking drugs; 2) Undertake an effective detoxification program to expel the drug from one’s body. Most detox programs don’t detoxicate at this level. but there are programs that do.

    The rule of law calls for people to take responsibility for their actions. This is true in common law as well as statutory law.

    1. If you’re so concerned about taking personal responsibility then why are you spreading such irresponsible lies about cannabis and it’s consumers? Because it’s clear that your lack of actual knowledge about cannabis isn’t stopping you from having a self-serving opinion on the subject. Promoting an ill-informed opinion is highly irresponsible.

    2. I dealt with cannabis and all the issues of detectable levels, for several years while representing parents in the dependency courts. It was sometimes slippery, but there were basic realities. An occasional user would be clean after 5 days. A regular user clean after about 17 days. To require 30 days to get clean basically required that one be mainlining the stuff.

      As for impairment, while it may be difficult or even well-nigh impossible to come up with some sort of blood quantum that would say “impaired” somewhere under the obvious, impairment itself can certainly be detected, and most of the FST procedures out there would suffice quite well. If an officer determined that someone was in fact impaired the only question remaining, if in fact relevant, would be what the cause of the impairment was. And said to say (at least in my case), the fact that the substance was legal would be irrelevant. After all, alcohol is legal too.

    3. That is an error on Sullum’s part; he misunderstands the science and the law.

      In Michigan the presumption comes from driving with active THC in your system. That lasts an relatively short time after consuming, at least relative to other drugs like alcohol.

      The metabolite, THC-COOH, is what lasts for a month or more. In Michigan, that doesn’t give rise to anything and cannot be the basis for an operating while impair by drugs charge.

  17. Let me guess, the author is a frequent marijuana user and drives after using?

    1. Let me guess, Big ED is a church-goin’ god-fearing Republitard authoritarian cunt?

  18. I use medical marijuana and take an opioid pain killer (have not had a pain-free day in 10 years). Is what I do legal? Yes. Are there reasonable alternatives? No. Is it a social issue? No, not unless I am doing something that has the capacity to injure others. I know that I am almost always impaired to some degree, and therefore strictly limit my driving. It’s not a matter of whether I think the cops can prove that I was impaired, it’s that I know that my reflexes are impaired and would be unless I went cold turkey on both the medicinal and the opioids for at least 30 days. I hate it, but I can’t do that. I can barely make it thru a day without one or the other.

    So, aside from the simple pleasures of thumbing our noses at the seemingly vain efforts of legislatures, courts and cops to define what “impaired” means (about as existential as deciding what the definition of “is” is), everybody who uses needs to be honest and recognize the effects of the drugs on their systems, and not be stupid and go ahead and drive anyway. It’s a simple matter of taking personal responsibility.

    1. If you think that me taking a couple of hits at 9 o’clock in the night means I’m too impaired to drive at 7 the next morning, then you have no clue what you are talking about.

  19. A crime is defined as “causing harm to people or property”. No harm, no crime, simple. The same field sobriety test for alcohol, should be used for cannabis “impairment”.

  20. I would imagine, then, that you do not agree with the arbitrary 0.08 alcohol criterion. If don’t disagree with that, why not?

  21. Those tests do not test for THC, they test for THC metabolites. Why don’t more people like me call out the drug warriors with that cold hard fact?

  22. During the 1970s I played lead guitar in a rock band. I insisted everybody in the band be straight and sober 4 gigs. My drummer believed he played better when he was high. He didn’t. He played worse. Not sure drumming translates to driving but both are psychomotor skills.

  23. The basic argument here is that people can function doing potentially dangerous tasks (driving, operating machinery, etc) with THC in their systems. OK but how much? We have known for many years that some people (heavy drinkers, alcoholics) can function much better than occasional users. So what do we do? After passing appropriate tests do we license users based on their level of intoxication, i.e., your OK at .1% but not at .25%? So just what is the answer? Until then, don’t drink and drive, don’t consume THC and drive.

    1. For that to work, the law would also have to require the entire population have the same exact metabolism. And the same exact reaction to marijuana.
      As it turns out, people react differently to drugs. Damned inconvenient for the cops and legislature, but there you are.
      Just like the magic 0.8 BAC, any number is just a number, free of accurate depiction of impairment. In alcohol, there are people who are useless after one beer, and people who figure that the reason there are 24 beers in a case is that there are 24 hours in a day.
      I have seen some folks who go glassy eyed just watching a joint get rolled, and then there’s Willie.

  24. I think the valid quantifiable number they might be able to cook up would be: How high does the average person score within a couple hours of smoking enough weed to be ripped?

    .15? .20? Whatever that number is MIGHT be somewhat correlated with actually being stoned, and hence a crappier driver. If That level drops to under saaay .10 within 6 hours of getting high then you have your range. Everybody varies, same with booze, but if they set the limit sufficiently high I would necessarily have a HUGE issue with this on principle. Drunk driving is truly dangerous, and so can being high as fuck. I have driven with stoned people who were driving awful.

    My main problem with this is the same as with drunk driving, the limit is waaay too low. .08 for booze is ridiculous. I guarantee I’d still be driving better than 90% of drivers on the road at .08. .10 or .12 would be more reasonable for booze because just about everything is getting pretty dicey at those readings. There must be something similar for recent (AKA still high) weed smoking. That should be the number they try to figure out if they want to be fair or reasonable at all… Which they probably don’t. 🙁

  25. wish you’d have left the last half of the article off. there is little actual scientific evidence that matches blood alcohol % with performance impairment. all of the ‘presumptive’ laws should be struck, and evidence of impairment should be the standard.

  26. Something our legislators, many physicians, most cops, and the majority of the public don’t understand is that like with medical marijuana patients the more marijuana someone uses the less “high” the person experiences. Unless they change strains to one with different THC and CBD level patients who use several time a day experience little of the psychological effects. Casual users of marijuana experience a greater high than those who smoke every day.
    How great would it be if the more alcohol you drank, the less drunk you got.

    In Arizona the presents of marijuana metabolites gets you charged with DUI. Medical marijuana patients in Arizona do have some protection. If a patient is involved in an accident or stopped by police they must prove impairment. People traveling through Arizona to California or Nevada to buy or use marijuana, please drive careful going home.

    As a deputy sheriff I never stopped someone for driving badly on marijuana alone. Marijuana and alcohol, marijuana and other drugs yes, but not marijuana alone. We need one standard of impairment for alcohol and drug use, either you’re impaired or you’re not.

    I understand arresting someone for driving impaired. I saw far too many fatal accidents caused by impaired drivers. I always found it funny that when someone takes a prescription amphetamine and drives they’re impaired. When the military gives a pilot an amphetamine and packs them into a $20,000,000 aircraft they’re a better pilot……

    Just a thought….

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