Wednesday, July 10, 2013




This essay will be different from my usual pompous, pedantic pontifications.  I want to enlist some of you to help me turn the spotlight of truth on one of those non-barking dogs in the night I’ve previously talked about – the dog of Driving Under the Influence of marijuana.  Let’s show him to be, not the snarling, threatening horror hound that has been sicced on us, but a toothless, sniveling, flea-bitten cur.

 Drug Warriors frequently argue from the fear of stoned maniacs wreaking carnage on the streets – a scene directly out of Reefer Madness, but that scene has no basis in reality.  By now, the facts should be available to rebut that scary dog, but some of you are needed to collect those facts.

The raw numbers suggest that a lot of drivers have indulged in a little marijuana before (or even while) hitting the road.  About twenty states, including over thirty percent of the national population, now have laws permitting medical use, decriminalizing, or legalizing marijuana; and the California medical use program (viewed by many as fig-leaf legalization) is now over fifteen years old.  The federal government estimates that over fifteen million people use it more than once a month.  And all of these people don’t just walk or ride the bus.  Millions of miles of herb-scented driving must have been logged over the last twenty years.

And there, dear readers, is where you come in.

Modern police forces love to collect statistics; and most of that data is available to the public, often on web pages.  These statistics should show several things that can be analyzed by year or even month:
            - number of total DUI arrests
            - number of DUIs involving alcohol only
            - number of DUIs involving marijuana only
            - number of DUIs involving multiple drugs
and in each of these categories:
            - the number involving wrecks
            -wrecks with injuries
            -wrecks with deaths.

But these quantitative data tell only part of the story.  The numbers should paint a qualitative picture as well. My intuition suggests that alcohol is overwhelmingly more bloody than marijuana.

I grew up in a small city at a time when television was just appearing.  The newspaper printed the local police blotter each day.  For the last thirty years I have lived  in a very large city where the daily police report would be as thick as a phone book.  The paper is reduced to reporting only the most vicious, bloody, or scandalous police reports, and each day those include around a half dozen deadly or spectacular auto crashes.  Almost all of these (as well as the top stories on the local “if it bleeds, its leads” tv news) involve drivers who had been drinking alcohol.  I can’t remember a single one of these reports in which the driver was alleged to have used only marijuana.  Marijuana-induced behavior is normally the opposite of those effects of alcohol that lead to the high-speed, reckless crashes ending in death or serious injury.

Simple police statistics probably will not reveal these details about injuries or deaths, but at least some of them should be available to researchers in public health fields.  The CDC may have collected much of this information.  In many places, ambulance service is provided by fire departments, and their data on car wrecks and trips from them to emergency rooms are probably public data.  Correlations between ambulance runs and police reports on wrecks should allow collection of data on wrecks, DUI arrests, and the types of drugs involved.  I’m primarily guessing on this, and I’m sure some of you know much more about what data is available and how to find it.

Collection and publication of this data is important.  I urge you to do whatever you can, and to encourage your associates to join the effort.

Facts are the best weapon against fear; and the facts about DUI marijuana will reduce the hypothetical mastiff of reckless rampaging potheads into a snoozing lapdog stoner.  The political establishment has no interest in assembling and distributing this data: they are too busy shoring up a failed prohibition scheme.  It’s up to us to ferret out this information and make sure the public knows about it.

Truth is our best weapon.

[Personal note: I have abandoned fifty years of academic indoctrination to use a first person dialog style for this piece, and it is really uncomfortable for me to do so.  I’ll probably stick to the more formal, impersonal style most of the time, but I’m willing to say “I” more often in the future if it’s effective.  What do you think of this attempt to stretch my stylistic wings?]

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