The imposition of so-called per se drugged driving laws, which create new traffic safety violations for drivers who operate a vehicle with the presence of trace amounts of certain controlled substances and/or their inert metabolites (byproducts) in their blood or urine, do not reduce incidences of traffic safety deaths.
That’s the conclusion of a just-published study by economists at the University of Colorado, Denver and Montana State University. The study is available from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany as a Discussion Paper.
Since 1990, 11 states have passed so-called zero-tolerant per se drugged driving laws which make it illegal for one to drive with detectable levels of a controlled substance in his or her system. Five additional states have passed similar laws specifying non-zero limits for controlled substances or their metabolites. Fourteen (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) of these sixteen states impose these strict liability per se standards for cannabis. Recently, the White House Office of National Drug Control has recommended zero tolerant per se drug standards for all US states.
Using state-level data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for the period 1990-2010, authors examined the relationship between the adoption of controlled substance per se thresholds and overall incidences of traffic fatalities. They found that the relationship is statistically indistinguishable from zero and concluded that there is no evidence that these limits reduced traffic deaths.
Authors reported: “Despite the fact that these laws have been touted by politicians and academics as an effective strategy for making our roadways safer, we find no evidence that they reduce traffic fatalities. … [W]e cannot determine why per se drugged driving laws do not work, and leave this issue to future researchers. However, our results clearly indicate that, as currently implemented, laws that make it illegal to drive with detectable levels of a controlled substance in the system have little to no effect on traffic fatalities.”
In November, Washington state voters approved Initiative 502, which legalizes the private use and retail sale of cannabis to adults, but also imposes a 5ng/ml THC/blood per se limit for drivers over the age of 21. In Colorado, where voters on Election Day similarly legalized cannabis, Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Senator Steven King are calling for the passage of nearly identical per se cannabis legislation.
NORML has consistently opposed the imposition of stand-alone per se limits for cannabinoids, arguing that the presence of THC in blood, particularly at lower levels, is an inconsistent predictor of behavioral impairment, particularly in more frequent consumers who may potentially test positive for trace, residual THC levels in their blood for periods of time exceeding any period of acute impairment.
Operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis is already a criminal offense in all 50 states. However, in order for one to gain a criminal conviction under most state DUI laws, prosecutors must prove that a motorist recently ingested cannabis and that doing so prohibited him or her from driving safely.
Full text of the study, “Per Se Drugged Driving Laws and Traffic Fatalities,” is available online here. A separate paper previously published by the same authors reported that the passage of statewide medical marijuana laws is associated with decreased incidences of traffic fatalities.
At this year’s NORML Conference, which was held the first week of October, much emphasis was placed on the upcoming legalization initiatives in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. One of the featured speakers was former NORML Board Member and writer for The Stranger in Washington, Dominic Holden. Dominic delivered an impassioned speech defending Washington’s marijuana legalization initiative, I-502, and spoke at length at the importance of winning initiatives and how we can progress towards full legalization in America.
You can watch the video below:
“The first [complaint of the opposition] is they don’t like a provision…that says if you have 5ng active THC in your blood for every mL of whole blood then you are guilty of DUI.
What the opponents have been saying, is that someone who has used marijuana, a regular marijuana user…a medical marijuana user, will test positive for exceeding that level a day later, two days later, a week later. Well guess what? They don’t have a single f***ing scientific study to back them up. In fact, the science proves them wrong. What science shows is the vast majority of marijuana users drop below that 5ng level within a few hours and none within 12-24 hours and certainly not a day later, two days later, a week later. Their argument is fundamentally flawed, because it’s a lie.
They are also concerned about a federal challenge, they say, “If we pass I-502 the federal government is going to challenge us on legalizing pot.”
News Flash: That’s the damn point.”
Expect much more video coverage of this year’s NORML Conference in the coming days and be sure to visit www.newapproachwa.org to learn more about the effort to tax and regulate cannabis in Washington State this November.
Now streaming on NORMLtv is the latest episode of “This Week in Weed.”
This Week: a congressman calls upon Drug Czar Kerlikowse to reschedule marijuana, per se THC limits for drugged driving stall out in Colorado, and the biggest marijuana rally on the east coast is about to commence.
style="overflow: hidden; height: 105px; width: 300px; border: 0;"
A new installment of ‘Ask NORML’ is now streaming on NORMLtv. This week’s topic, decided by our online audience, is drugged driving. In this episode, Executive Director Allen St. Pierre addresses concerns surrounding “stoned drivers” and the efficacy of current roadside testing.
Subscribe to NORMLtv and visit NORML’s Facebook page for announcements regarding future ‘Ask NORML’ episodes. Please submit your medical use related questions here and we’ll do our best to answer as many as we can.
You can now follow NORMLtv on Twitter for up to the minute updates on new content and community engagement.
September 12, 2010
Opponents of marijuana legalization complain that Proposition 19 could endanger workplace safety. Employers, such as Ed Rullman of the Best Western Hilltop Inn in his Aug. 15 Op-Ed, object that Proposition 19 has a clause protecting employees against discrimination for private, adult use of marijuana. However, this is qualified by an important provision protecting employers’ right “to address consumption that actually impairs job performance.”
Why then should Proposition 19 be a problem for employers? Because they want to test employees for behavior that doesn’t affect job performance by using the inherently flawed and inaccurate technology of urine testing.
Contrary to popular misconception, urine tests don’t measure the active presence of marijuana in the system, but rather non-active chemical by-products that linger for days or weeks after any impairing effects have faded. Urine testing routinely flags the most harmless, weekend use of marijuana, while completely ignoring the No. 1 cause of drug abuse, alcohol.
Urine testing is therefore a highly unreliable indicator of impairment or job fitness. In fact, it is perfectly possible to be high as a kite and still pass a urine test with flying colors because marijuana doesn’t show up in the urine until hours after smoking. Such problems can be avoided by other, more accurate screening methods, such as blood tests, which detect the active presence of drugs in the system, or the field sobriety checks used by law enforcement in DUI stops.
But aren’t urine tests still helpful in protecting workplace safety? Scientific evidence for this is conspicuously lacking. Urine testing has never undergone the kind of rigorous FDA “safety and efficacy” studies that are required for other medical devices and drugs.
Numerous studies have found that subjects who test positive for marijuana are no more accident-prone, and in some instances even safer, than those who don’t.
A recent expert review by the Canadian Center for Addictions Research recommended against use of drug urinalysis, concluding that “urinalysis has not been shown to have a meaningful impact on job injury/accident rates.”
A study of high-tech companies found that drug testing was associated with reduced productivity, apparently because it undermines worker morale and trust. Drug urinalysis may thus be an indicator of sloppy management by large corporations who exercise poor oversight over workers.
Until recent years, it would have been laughable to suppose that American workers should be forced to submit urine samples to prove their job worthiness. The U.S. is alone among developed countries in regarding urine testing as a routine practice. In the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available to all adults, drug testing is hardly used, yet workplace safety is substantially better than in the U.S.
The bottom line is that marijuana residues in urine pose no risk to workplace safety. In many cases, it is even preferable to let employees use marijuana for medical purposes at home so as to help avoid pain and other problems that can impair their performance.
Of course, there may exist situations where some kind of drug testing is useful in protecting workplace safety. If so, Proposition 19 specifically permits it. In no case would Proposition 19 override existing federal drug testing rules, anymore than did Proposition 215.
In general, however, Proposition 19 would benefit countless workers — pot users and non-users alike — by sparing them the degrading indignity of submitting to intrusive, misleading urine tests that have no bearing on job fitness.