Denver Post’s editorial board raises reefer madness fears of stoned drivers

Nobody tests for ng/ml of oxycodone in blood to determine impairment. In fact, its warning labels say it's OK to drive once you know how Vicodin affects you.

Following the second defeat of a bill to set a 5 ng/ml THC in blood limit as a per se indication of impaired driving, the Denver Post resurrects the ghost of William Randolph Hearst to editorialize about the carnage on the freeways that will result.  Beware, Coloradoans, because now medical marijuana patients have A License to Drive Stoned.

First the Post asks “what were they smoking,” referring to “liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans” who killed the bill.  You can always tell W.R. Hearst is writing when he opens with a pot pun.  Because, after all, according to Hearst, smoking pot completely changes your senses of morality and reason and only the wacky tobacky could make a liberal or libertarian vote for liberty.

Next the Post castigates lawmakers for buying “the hype” about “relative highness” – the idea that human beings of varying sizes and differing use rates of cannabis might not all be impaired at a 5 ng/ml.  Part of this “hype” included the WestWord’s pot critic, William Breathes, abstaining from marijuana use for a day and testing at 13 ng/ml the next morning.  The Post finds it ludicrous that some people think they can use their cannabis medication and not be impaired.

I wonder if the Post has seen those little warning labels about driving on prescription antihistamines, antidepressants, opioid analgesics like Vicodin, and even bottles of synthetic 100% THC Marinol.  Do not drive, operate heavy machinery, or participate in any other possibly dangerous activities until you know how you react to this medicine.  Oxycodone hydrochloride extended-release tablets can make you sleepy.” Why is that warning valid for a highly-addictive, highly-impairing drug known on the streets as “Hillbilly Heroin” but not for herbal cannabis?

To drive home the point (we, too, are quick with a pun), the Post cites some statistics on driving fatalities since the passage of medical marijuana in 2000:

(Denver Post) Incidents of drugged-driving fatalities have been increasing, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

While driving fatalities overall are going down…

Wait a minute.  ”Fatalities overall are going down” since 2000?  So, if I’m a Colorado driver, my overall chances of being killed on the roadways have decreased since medical marijuana began?  These are the dangerous roads you’ve been discussing a 5ng/ml solution for?

Even Colorado Dept. of Transportation has said, “The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in Colorado in 2009 may have reached the lowest level in three decades,” and “Colorado has experienced a steady decline in motor vehicle fatalities since a recent peak of 743 deaths in 2002, despite an increase of nearly 4,200 million vehicle miles traveled in 2008 compared to 2002.”

OK, go on…

…the number of those involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana use is going up.

In 2005, 23 drivers involved in fatal crashes had used marijuana. In 2009, that number was up to 37.

With the recent boom in medical marijuana cards floating around in Colorado — about 125,000 people have them now — does that really come as a surprise?

If you don’t think too hard, that excerpt might scare you.  So let me start with an analogy.  If we looked up fatal crashes in 2009 that involved drivers who have used iPads, Facebook, or Barack Obama coffee mugs, and we compared that figure to users of those products in 2005, do you think we’d see an increase in such fatalities?  Sure, because so many more people use those products now.

The Post is suffering from the fallacy of correlation = causation.  When they say “drivers involved in fatal crashes had used marijuana”, we’re talking about post-accident toxicology screens that either detect inactive marijuana metabolites in urine or active THC in blood.  In the former case that means pot use within weeks or months; in the latter case that means pot use within days or weeks.  It tells us nothing about whether the person driving was impaired by marijuana at the time of the accident, just that they are a marijuana user.

With 125,000 medical marijuana users, no, I’m not surprised we find more marijuana users killed in car wrecks, any more than if 125,000 Rwandan refugees arrived in Colorado and we found more Rwandans killed in car wrecks.

The most telling part is the Post’s closing, where they lament that the senate sided with “marijuana users over the general public.”  I guess 125,000 Colorado citizens exercising their constitutional right to herbal medicine don’t count as “general public” and don’t deserve representation in the senate.

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