Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wow. Make Something Legal, And People Do More Of It

Interesting article in the February 4, 2014 Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana," said co-author Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia. "If this trend continues, in five or six years non-alcohol drugs will overtake alcohol to become the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving."
The research team drew its conclusions from crash statistics from six states that routinely perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car wrecks -- California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. The statistics included more than 23,500 drivers who died within one hour of a crash between 1999 and 2010.
Alcohol contributed to about the same percentage of traffic fatalities throughout the decade, about 40 percent, Li said.
But drugs played an increasingly prevalent role in fatal crashes, the researchers found. Drugged driving accounted for more than 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010, up from more than 16 percent in 1999.
Marijuana proved to be the main drug involved in the increase, contributing to 12 percent of 2010 crashes compared with 4 percent in 1999.
The response of the marijuana apologists in the comments on an article summarizing this was that of course the number of fatal car crashes have increased, because more people are smoking pot.  I guess that they missed the point of the article: more marijuana users are driving under the influence, and while alcohol continues to be a likely factor in 40% of the fatal accidents, marijuana has tripled, up to 12%.  More importantly, the article goes on to point out that alcohol and marijuana combined are far more dangerous than either alone.  (Why would someone combine alcohol and pot?  One intoxicant isn't enough?)

How wonderful: we can take a situation that is bad with one legal intoxicant, and add another!


Kukulkan said...

It seems as though you are arguing that we should not legalize marijuana because some people will drive while impaired by the effects of the drug. Stated differently, no one should have the right to smoke marijuana because some will abuse the right. This is precisely the same argument that gun control proponents use. No one should have the right to possess a gun because some will misuse the right. How do you reconcile your support for one deprivation of a right (what to do with your own body) and the support for the another right (the right to armed self-defense)?

Kukulkan said...

You seem to be arguing that no one should be allowed to use marijuana because a subset of everyone will abuse that right by driving while impaired. This is precisely the same argument gun control proponents use: No one should have the right to possess a gun because some people will commit mass murder. How do you reconcile your support of prohibit of one right (the right to do what you will to your own body) and your support of a different right (the right to armed self-defense)? This from someone who has never used any illegal drugs.

Ber950 said...

No wants to make dui legal and the folks that drive with drugs and alcohol in their system have been a problem for years. No law is going to stop them. Your arguments sound a lot like things I hear from anti-gunners.

Personally I neither drink alcohol or smoke pot, but I have a real problem with the hubris of outlawing a plant that God created.

Rich Rostrom said...

And AFAIK, there is no breath test for marijuana.

There could be though.

Business opportunity!

Clayton said...

I am not aware that anyone has outlawed marijuana plants. Wild marijuana grows throughout the United States.

My point is that there are negative consequences to legalizing marijuana, and those pretending otherwise are not being honest.

Sigivald said...

Given how little it takes to "test positive" and how long marijuana hangs around, I think using "test[s] positive" as a synonym for "was intoxicated by" is unwise.

At most, what this tells me is two things:

A) The sort of person who drives dangerously enough to kill themselves or others has an 12% chance to have smoked some reefer vaguely recently - even if they crash was because they were dead drunk or on some other intoxicants as well.

The more interesting thing would be to know what percentage of the entire population would "test positive" on any given day; I wouldn't be surprised if it approached the same 12%, which would undercut causal arguments rather strongly.

B) There's a huge, successful, long-term campaign to keep people from driving while drunk and to hammer it into their heads that it's both dangerous and likely to get you sent to prison.

No such campaign has existed for marijuana.

(And again, see "test[ed] positive" vs. "actually intoxicated at all" - one can easily "test positive" for marijuana without being the slightest bit impaired, so even someone who is very careful about never driving while impaired would fail that test.)

Lastly, what does the headline have to do with anything?

Pot isn't legal in any of those states, generally, and is only legal for "medical" (which I agree is mostly a cover for recreational use) in California ... but we don't hear that the rate is up more in CA than elsewhere. I'd love to see if the uptick in CA was at all related to the medical legalization.

Clayton said...

It is true that marijuana persists a long time. Still, that percentage from fatal accidents does make you suspect a connection. Even a mild impairment caused by smoking pot yesterday could be a factor.

You make a good point about California being the only state where pot was legal. It would be interesting to see what percentage of that was California, which just because of population would severely affect the results.

RS said...

The study involved CA, HI, IL, NH, RI and WV.

NONE of which have legal marijuana and only two, CA and HI have legal medical marijuana.

So your claim that legality has led to this increase is unsupported.

Clayton said...

California "medical marijuana" law is extremely lax -- is it really plausible that many teenagers are sick enough to need medical marijuana?

Remember that California is more than 10% of the U.S. population, and far more than that percentage of the surveyed states. They could very easily skew the results for the sampled group.

Joseph said...

One problem with the War on Some Drugs is that those that are legal or about to be legal are considered the official government-approved mind-altering chemicals that must not be criticized. If all of those chemicals are legal, you can't use the excuse that it's legal and therefore harmless.