Marijuana Prohibition Corrupts; Absolute Marijuana Prohibition Corrupts Absolutely

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 17, 2010

    One of the indirect though no less serious consequences of marijuana prohibition is the mischaracterization of clinical research in order to support the federal government’s bankrupt policy.

    For example, last week the Obama administration called for the expansion of states to enact laws criminalizing motorists who drive with the residual presence of drug or inactive drug metabolites in their body. In the case of marijuana, these policies are especially egregious because its metabolites may remain present in urine for weeks or months after past use. Further, studies have consistently reported that the presence of marijuana metabolites is not associated with psychomotor impairment or an elevated risk of motor accident — a result that should be self-evident given that cannabis metabolites only form in urine after the drug’s primary psychoactive compound, THC, has been broken down and converted by the body over a period of several hours.

    So how does the federal government justify its call for implementing such an inane and discriminatory policy? Simple. By claiming that supposed ‘marijuana and driving menace’ is so prevalent and severe that lawmakers have no other choice but to enact such inflexible and nonsensical policies to halt it.

    Now I’ve written on the subject of cannabis use and psychomotor performance numerous times, including recently authoring the white paper Cannabis and Driving: A Scientific and Rational Review. In short the science says this: there appears to be a positive association between very recent cannabis exposure and a gradually increased risk of vehicle accident; however, this elevated risk is below the risk presented by drivers who have consumed even small (read ‘legal’) quantities of alcohol.

    Does this conclusion support the blanket criminalization of marijuana or the enactment of the sort of zero-tolerant per se driving laws outlined above? No more so than such a conclusion advocates for a return to alcohol prohibition.

    So what’s the administration to do? That’s easy — just fund more research. And what to do when that federally funded research fails to produce the results they were looking for? That’s even easier: just claim that they do anyway.

    Such is the case with a just-published study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs assessing the psychomotor skills of subjects on a battery of off-road driving simulator tests both before and after smoking marijuana (and/or placebo).

    During the course study, subjects were asked to respond to various simulated events associated with automobile crash risk — such as avoiding a driver who was entering an intersection illegally, deciding to stop or go through changing traffic lights, responding to the presence of emergency vehicles, avoiding colliding a dog who entered into traffic, and maintaining safe driving during a secondary (in-the-car) auditory distraction. Subjects performed these tests sober, and then shortly (30 minutes) after smoking a single marijuana cigarettes (or placebo).

    So how did the subjects perform? Much to the apparent chagrin of the investigators, just fine.

    “No sex differences or interactions of sex and marijuana were observed for any of the driving tasks. Participants receiving active marijuana decreased their speed more so than those receiving the placebo cigarette during a distracted section of the drive. An overall effect of marijuana was seen for the mean speed during the distracted driving (PASAT section). [N]o other changes in driving performance were found.

    In short, subjects had no greater likelihood of responding adversely to any of the simulated events after smoking marijuana than they had prior to consuming cannabis.

    Of course, these are not the sort of results that NIDA — who provided funding for the study — or the Drug Czar’s office are looking for. Therefore, the authors are required find some outcome — any outcome — supporting the administration’s claim that driving under the influence of cannabis is a serious and significant threat. How do they do that in this case? Simple; by stating subjects lack of impairment was, in fact, implicit evidence of their impairment!

    “Persons smoking the placebo cigarette showed an improvement in performance of the PASAT during the driving task, likely attributable to practice effects. Under the influence of marijuana, however, no differences were found between PASAT performance during practice testing and while driving. Participants who smoked active marijuana decreased their speed during this section of the drive, suggesting additional compensatory skills were used.”

    In other words, the authors are claiming that because subjects on one specific test (the auditory distraction test) drove more slowly when completing the task after smoking marijuana than they did prior to consuming cannabis, but otherwise manifested no difference in the outcome of said test — or on any other test for that matter — that this is somehow strong evidence that marijuana has a significant and adverse impact on driving.


    Under the influence of active marijuana, participants exhibited increased drowsiness, although this did not appear to affect their driving [emphasis mine]. Participants under the influence of marijuana failed to benefit from prior experience on a distracter task [what the authors want the reader to emphasize] as evidenced by a decrease in speed and a failure to show expected practice effects. This study supports the existing literature that marijuana does affect simulated driving performance [ditto], particularly on complex tasks such as divided attention. It is anticipated that many teenagers and young adults driving under the influence of marijuana are doing so while conversing with friends in the car, listening to music, talking on the cell phone and/or text messaging others. These behaviors divide the driver’s attention and are particularly dangerous under the influence of marijuana [what the authors really, really want the reader to emphasize].”

    And that, my friends, is just the latest example of how marijuana prohibition corrupts, and how absolute marijuana prohibition corrupts absolutely.

    82 responses to “Marijuana Prohibition Corrupts; Absolute Marijuana Prohibition Corrupts Absolutely”

    1. Just Legalize It says:

      so i assume that the tests were done with people who have never used marijuana before? otherwise they would know right away if they were given the real thing or a placebo……

      and if that is the case, then we are studying people driving while getting high for the first time….. and they are STILL driving better than the average driver…..

      but the average american is just dumb enough to eat up everything the ONDCP and NIDA have to say on the subject of drugs….. (its usually the same ones who think the government lies all the time….. i could never figure out the connection… but its there)

    2. Vic says:

      Absolutely! The anti-pots have their heads so far up their asses it will be 3010 before Everyone will be asking “What was all the Fuss about?” But what wont surprise me is allot of the anti-pots will be right on the band wagon as soon as all the other anti-pots are! Fucking Sheeple!

    3. Sean U Idaho says:

      I just got into an argument with my study abroad apartment roommate, maybe an hour ago. He once had an internship with the DEA. He showed me one article citing “numerous studies” I showed him Tashkin, HNSCC, and 4 studies showing THC’s angiogenesis preventative effects in tumors along with inciting tumor cell death. He resorted immediately to ad hominem calling me “…The most ignorant drug addict he’s ever met…” I realize this is off topic, but the lead of this article is all too appropriate for what just happened to me.

      He believes that Amsterdam is a country in economic shambles for no reason other than its marijuana policy. How can people think so irrationally as to simply ignore facts.

    4. um... dave says:

      and just how do they propose to test for remnants of drug metabolites, perhaps left over from use or contact weeks ago? while an officer can always find some reason to legally pull someone over (failure to use your turn signal the full 100feet prior to making a turn; operating motor vehicle in such a way as to make the front wheel touch the center dividing line slightly), and an officer is always allowed to order someone out of the vehicle after making a legal stop, if the driver is not drunk, and has not come into contact with marijuana in weeks, what basis in the law is the officer going to have to test urine or blood for these metabolites? absent some reason they can put to words that looks like probable cause to a judge, they can’t compell a sample… so they are going to have but one recourse to enforce this new policy… enforced conent. they’re going to start off by asking really nicely… ‘you ain’t no drug addict, now, are ya son?’, ‘well then, you wouldn’t mind if i just went ahead and took a lil sample now, wouldja?’… there wouldn’t be anything wrong with this investigation technique, save for one minor detail: the vast majority of people don’t know that they don’t have to consent and that their refusal to consent cannot provide a basis for their continued or extended detention! fight all attempts to enforce this policy, and every other policy, even if you really have nothing to hide, DO NOT CONSENT!!! every person who folds under the pressure of the police state helps the state trample the rights of us all.

    5. Yoni says:

      The argument that marijuana legalization would make roads more dangerous makes me absolutely furious.

      The number one issue of importance is that those who smoke and get high KNOW they are high and KNOW when they are incapable of driving. If they feel unsure, they have have the mental capacity to pull over and halt.
      In fact, those who are really really stoned will often feel uncomfortable and paranoid driving. Compare this to drunk drivers who will say their “fine” and ram their car into a tree at 80 mph.

      Yet the same arguments get recycled.

    6. Anon says:

      This is an outrage! I will not stand for this nonsense! This is a severe violation of human rights! I will boycott driving if this goes through.

    7. Matunos says:

      Why are you guys in support of strewing baby entrails on our nation’s highways? THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

    8. TLC says:

      Stronger laws for driving…urine tests during routine exams. The government is spooked by the amount of people that are coming around to the legalization side. I guess they figure if they prosecute you and take away your vote, you won’t be a threat to their agenda anymore.

      The whole country needs a revamp of patriotism the Jefferson way. It is our duty to resist anti-democratic tactics.

    9. giannitc2010 says:

      Historic statewide initiative in California to legalize, control, and tax cannabis. Help build national support for the movement. Sign up on the website, join the campaign! taxcannabis.org

    10. PsiDoc says:

      Wow, as an experimental psychologist I find that conclusion disgusting. I think it’s time to write these guys a note.