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August 2014
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Reality doesn’t match Rep. Mica’s fantasies

I told you I didn’t have the patience to watch the full “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” hearing on stoned driving. Fortunately, Paul Armentano has the patience, and he reports that the hearing organizer didn’t exactly get what he was hoping for…

Not surprisingly, NHTSA’s inability to provide hard data to the Committee raised concerns among Congressional members. In response to Dr. Michael’s testimony, Rep. Connolly stated the obvious: “I just think it is amazing with some of the hyperventilated rhetoric about marijuana use and THC that 50 years after we’ve declared it a class 1 substance, we still don’t enough data to know just how dangerous it is in (regards to) operating a vehicle. That really raises questions about either the classification (of marijuana) itself, whether that makes any sense, or raises serious questions about how our government is operating in terms of the data it does not have and the science it does not know and yet the assertions that we (the federal government) make. That is not a good recipe for rational public policy.”

Paul’s full report below…

NHTSA Official Affirms That Little Is Known About Cannabis’ Potential Impact on Traffic Accidents

By Paul Armentano

Despite increasingly intense rhetoric from both politicians and members of law enforcement in regard to an alleged epidemic in ‘stoned driving,’ Congressional testimony on Thursday by a representative of the US government’s foremost traffic safety agency, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), revealed that data in regard to cannabis effect on behavior and traffic safety is largely lacking.

Speaking before the US House of Representatives, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Associate Administrator for Research and Program Development at NHTSA, acknowledged that the agency is unaware of any figures specific to cannabis’s role in US traffic fatalities. By contrast, NHTSA’s representative was able to provide precise annual figures pertaining to the annual number of traffic fatalities caused by alcohol intoxication, distracted driving, and aggressive driving. However, when asked by Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly as to the estimated number of annual traffic deaths attributable to motorists under the influence of THC, Michael replied, “Currently, that is difficult to say, sir.”

NHTSA’s representative further testified to the fact that, at this time, the imposition of per se thresholds (legal limits intended to delineate between impaired and unimpaired subjects) for cannabis are inappropriate, a position also acknowledged on the agency’s website which states : “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.”

Speaking to the Congressional Committee on Thursday, Dr. Michael explained, “The available evidence does not support the development of an impairment threshold for THC (in blood) which would be analogous to that (of) alcohol.” He added: “The available evidence indicates that the response of individuals to increasing amounts of THC is much more variable than it is for alcohol. So with alcohol we have a considerable body of evidence that can place risk odds at increasing levels of blood alcohol content. For example, a .08 blood alcohol content is associated with about four times the crash risk of a sober person. The average arrest is at .15 BAC; that is associated with about 15 times the crash risk. Beyond some broad confirmation that higher levels of THC are generally associated with higher levels of impairment, a more precise association of various THC levels and degrees of impairment are not yet available.”

Dr. Michael also noted that NHTSA was conducting an ongoing study that, upon completion, will provide odds ratios — assessments of whether an activity is associated with a risk greater than or less than 1 (1 equating to zero increased risk) — for cannabis-positive drivers compared to other motorists. But data from similar case-control studies conducted by other researchers already exists.

Recently, a 2012 meta-analysis of 66 studies assessing drug positive drivers and crash risk concluded that marijuana-positive drivers possessed an odds-adjusted risk of traffic injury of 1.10 and an odds-adjusted risk of fatal accident of 1.26. This risk level was among the lowest of any drugs assessed by the study’s author and it was comparable to the odds ratio associated with penicillin (OR=1.12), anti-histamines (OR=1.12), and antidepressants (OR=1.35). To put cannabis’ odds ratios in context, a separate study published earlier this year in the journal Injury Prevention reported that drivers with a BAC of 0.01 percent are “46 percent more likely (OR = 1.46) to be officially blamed for a crash than are the sober drivers they collide with.”

Not surprisingly, NHTSA’s inability to provide hard data to the Committee raised concerns among Congressional members. In response to Dr. Michael’s testimony, Rep. Connolly stated the obvious: “I just think it is amazing with some of the hyperventilated rhetoric about marijuana use and THC that 50 years after we’ve declared it a class 1 substance, we still don’t enough data to know just how dangerous it is in (regards to) operating a vehicle. That really raises questions about either the classification (of marijuana) itself, whether that makes any sense, or raises serious questions about how our government is operating in terms of the data it does not have and the science it does not know and yet the assertions that we (the federal government) make. That is not a good recipe for rational public policy.”

Indeed it is not.

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5 comments to Reality doesn’t match Rep. Mica’s fantasies

  • divadab

    The Prohibitionists have been working the “marijuana-drugged driving” meme for several years. It seems they think that this will preserve some prohibition-related jobs.

    I participated in some rogue science in this regard a couple of years ago. A medical doctor, working with a witness who recorded the data, administered a detailed sobriety test (the same one he administers for the State to test commercial drivers), and a blood serum THC test (the same one used to test for the 5 nanogram per se impairment standard) to several MMJ patients. First, unmedicated, and then, 30 minutes after medicating heavily. In my case, my first sobriety test with zero marijuana in my blood, and the second test with 17 nanograms, over three times the per se impairment level. I was actually LESS impaired medicated – my reaction times were over 20% faster than when I was unmedicated.

    My conclusion? The 5 nanogram per se impairment rule is a dastardly fraud (I guess like most of the crap the Prohibs come up with). It’s arbitrary and unscientific, and an insult to the intelligence of any rational person. Fie on the scum promoting this fraud.

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  • primus

    I am old enough to recall the discussion regarding the per se .08 and the breathalyzer as a method of determining alcohol impairment. As I recall, there was no consensus that .08 meant impaired, however it was decided that, absent any other method of determining impairment, the per se .08 rule would have to do, at least until another method of determining impairment was developed. As soon as that decision was made, work on impairment testing stopped, and did not begin again until a few years ago. Now, there are devices which test for impairment, no matter the source. Why are we concerning ourselves with per se laws when there is a better approach?

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  • claygooding

    The NHTSA spokesperson should have reported the truth,,that they can’t find any evidence after over a decade of searching that even with heavy use of marijuana it is causing accidents on our highways instead of reverse spinning it making it sound as if they haven’t researched it at all.

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  • DdC

    Any punishment for cannabis use is dysfunctional behavior. Especially with the harm done by white powder pain meds. Or booze. This would be promoted in a sane world where policy isn’t written by profit margins or ignorance to perpetuate profits or their own existence as gossip queens. If testifying under oath had consequences for the drug worrier liars this problem would have been solved decades ago. Instead of the message it might send the kids. Kids who had their homes forfeitured as a retirement spread for the local sheriff. Or mandatory minimum koch private prison profits or court ordered Stupid Patrick Kennedy rehabilitation asylums. Still we have parasites in Congress trying to maintain the gravy train at American citizens expense. The difference is today we also have realists countering the gossip. Hooray for our side!

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  • Ethan

    The driving studies are there, of course. They mostly haven’t been allowed in my country, due to the usual hypocrisy from some of the same parties that are open to science now that they’ve been backed against the wall, but they’ve happened elsewhere. They don’t make the prohibitionists’ case well.

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