I get contacted fairly frequently by people that are working on achieving cannabis reform in their state. Cannabis reform is a very complex issue, and there are many factors involved. Two things that I am always quick to offer up for areas of focus are DUIs and preventing kids from obtaining regulated cannabis. Those two aspects of cannabis reform seem to be the two areas that lawmakers and voters express the most concern about when it comes to medical and/or adult-use legalization, which is understandable.
Cannabis opponents go to the ‘what about the children’ argument early and often when they talk about cannabis, and they often combine it with the ‘there will be a stoned driver epidemic’ prediction. For some reason, mainstream media loves perpetuating those two areas, which doesn’t help. I have found that the children scare tactic is easier to debunk than the DUI epidemic prediction because data is readily available that completely refutes the claim that cannabis reform increases cannabis consumption by youth.
The DUI issue is a bit tougher to explain. That is due in large part to how long cannabis stays in a person’s system after use, and the virtual impossibility to accurately prove that cannabis use caused a motor vehicle crash. Cannabis can stay in a person’s system for as long as 100 days after use, and a person can fail a drug test from simply being exposed to second-hand cannabis smoke (but not necessarily experiencing any intoxication). A person will also have cannabis in their system after handling cannabis (but not smoking it), even though they didn’t experience any ‘high’ from the contact.
Just because a driver has cannabis in their system does not mean that they were impaired from cannabis consumption at the time of an automobile crash, and specifically, that cannabis consumption impairment caused the crash in question. With that in mind, it was pure reefer madness when Jeff Sessions had the following interaction earlier this year in a private Q and A, per FactCheck.org:
Questioner, June 22: Since guns kill more people than marijuana, why lax laws on one and harsh laws on the other?
Sessions: Well that’s apples and oranges question I would say first and foremost. But the Second Amendment, you’re aware of that, guarantees the right of the American people to keep and bear arms and I intend to defend that Second Amendment. It’s as valid as the First Amendment. So that’s my basic philosophical view about it. Look, there’s this view that marijuana is harmless and it does no damage. I believe last year was the first year that automobile accidents that occurred were found to have been caused more by drugs than by alcohol. Marijuana is not a healthy substance, in my opinion. The American Medical Association is crystal clear on that. Do you believe that?
Questioner: I, I don’t.
For the record, I first saw the FactCheck.org breakdown via Tom Angell’s Marijuana Moment newsletter, which I encourage everyone to support financially. It’s an OUTSTANDING resource. FactCheck.org provides a thorough breakdown of Jeff Sessions’ claim in the previously cited link. They first start by pointing out that the data Jeff Sessions was relying on for his claim was from 2015, not 2016, which in itself makes his statements false.
They also point out that Sessions is trying to lump cannabis in with every other drug via the 2015 data, which inflates how many drivers actually had cannabis in their system at the time of the crash. It is common for cannabis opponents to make general claims about drug use in response to questions that are specifically targeted towards cannabis. I have to assume that is done for strategic purposes. After crunching the actual numbers, FactCheck.org concludes the following in regards to Sessions’ statements:
That would mean 7.1 percent of all fatally-injured drivers tested positive for marijuana, compared with 26.4 percent who tested positive for alcohol.
Jeff Sessions is spreading completely false reefer madness, which I know, is not exactly shocking. It can’t be said enough that even for the 7.1% of all fatally-injured drivers that tested positive for cannabis, it’s impossible to know how many of them were impaired by cannabis consumption to the point that cannabis caused the crash they were involved in. It could be quite possible that NONE of the individuals were stoned at the time of the crash. They could very well have consumed cannabis weeks prior, but still had THC in their system.
Whenever you see cannabis opponents throwing around cannabis DUI stats, always take them with a grain of salt. I would say the same about claims that people have ‘invented the first cannabis breathalyzer.’ Stats and inventions that claim to prove that people are driving while stoned are really just proving that metabolized cannabis is in a person’s system at a particular time, but with zero proof of when the cannabis actually entered the person’s system and with zero proof that a person was actually impaired while driving.