How Gil Kerlikowske lies – drugged driving

We all know that the Drug Czar is required by law to lie. But does he really need to enjoy it so much?

This week points out once again how he does it. And it’s all about drugged driving.

Now the drug czar would like to make a big deal about the dangers of drugged driving, partly because if he can get states to pass “per se” laws (where even the presence of residual metabolites from marijuana, for example count as drugged driving despite the lack of impairment), then it puts a complication into efforts to legalize.

Here’s his problem. There are no reliable studies that demonstrate that drugged-non-drunk driving (particularly marijuana drugged driving) is a real problem. Individual cases, sure, but no clear statistics like you have with drunk driving.

This year, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study where they asked drivers in one location to pull over and voluntarily submit to a drug test.

Based on oral fluid tests, 11% of daytime drivers tested positive for the presence of a combination of illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs (not including alcohol). 14.4% of nighttime drivers tested positive. At nighttime, they also tested some drivers with blood tests. Using a combination of oral fluid and blood tests, 16.3% of nighttime drivers tested positive. Marijuana was the substance detected most (nighttime: marijuana 8.6%, cocaine 3.9%, meth 1.3%).

Now, as you read this, you immediately realize that it means very little. It’s the first year that this study has been conducted. Now, if you run it for a number of years, fluctuations might tell you something interesting. But a baseline set of numbers here says nothing at all about impairment on the highways.

For example, if 8.6% of the population uses marijuana on a regular basis, but every one of them always, without fail, wait until they are sober before driving, these results would show that 8.6% of drivers test positive for illegal drugs. It says nothing about impairment.

The study authors knew this well. They specifically stated:

“The reader is cautioned that drug presence does not necessarily imply impairment. For many drug types, drug presence can be detected long after any impairment that might affect driving has passed. For example, traces of marijuana can be detected in blood samples several weeks after chronic users stop ingestion. Also, whereas the impairment effects for various concentration levels of alcohol is well understood, little evidence is available to link concentrations of other drug types to driver performance. “


“Caution should be exercised in assuming that drug presence implies driver impairment. Drug tests do not necessarily indicate current impairment. Drug presence can be measured for a period of days or weeks after ingestion in many cases. This latency of drug presence may partially explain the consistency between daytime and nighttime drug findings.”

That didn’t stop the Drug Czar. Desperately needing some kind of authoritative backing for his drugged driving campaign, he latched onto the NHTSA report despite the fact that it specifically denied what he was trying to claim.

He knew that. So he needed to find a way to sneak it in.

He couldn’t just come out and put a statement on the ONDCP website stating that 16% of all evening drivers are high. That could be subject to review. So he tends to be more careful with official statements. In his statement for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week, he said:

In addition, we hope to foster productive discussions this week about the emerging public safety threat of drugged driving, which adversely effects judgment, reaction time, motor skills, and memory. In our Nation, we are increasingly seeing the terrible consequences of drug use in the form of automobile accidents. Far too many people are using drugs and then getting behind the wheel, with deadly results. According to a study conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 12 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs.

See the trick? Three sentences of hyperbolic opinion, followed by one sentence of unrelated fact (technically true, because he said “tested,” not that they were impaired), intentionally giving the impression that the last sentence acts as proof or evidence to support the first three.

It is a lie. No question about it. The paragraph is intentionally deceitful, which makes it a lie. But it’s effectively unchallengeable. How could I, for example, challenge that statement through the Information Quality Act? Statements like “far too many people” are so vague as to be meaningless, and the final sentence is technically correct, even though irrelevant.

But that’s only the first step of the lie. Kerlikowske knows that the press can be manipulated (and that his quotes in the press are un-reviewable), so when he talks to them, he goes further, knowing they won’t bother to check on his statements.

Washington Post, reported by Ashley III Halsey:

About 11 percent of motorists are high on the weekend, and the number creeps up past 16 percent once night falls on Friday and Saturday, according to federal drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and a national roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. [emphasis added]

Reuters, reported by Sylvia Westall and Matthew Jones:

“If you think about driving on an American road on a Friday or Saturday evening about 16 percent of the vehicles – one in six of the cars – (the driver) will be under the influence of an illicit or licit drug,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said. [emphasis added]

NY Daily News, reported by Issie Lapowsky:

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, told members of the United Nations that on the average weekend in America, one in six drivers “will be under the influence of an illicit or licit drug.” [emphasis added]

Now the lie is clear and specific, but it’s being disseminated by the press, not specifically by the ONDCP.

Masterful lying by Gil Kerlikowske. Almost too good. Makes me wonder who might be helping him… I understand that Kevin Sabet has been seen at his side quite a bit. Kevin’s a real cagey player and has shown an interest in pushing the marijuana and drugged driving meme for some time.

Care to comment on that, Kevin? I’d be happy to open up a discussion on drugged driving with you here at any time.


Note to any amateur sleuths out there. If you find any official ONDCP documents or web pages that actually misstate the findings of the NHTSA study (ie, use the words “impaired” or “high” or something other than “tested positive for”) please let me know.

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23 Responses to How Gil Kerlikowske lies – drugged driving

  1. Cannabis says:

    ONDCP search results for query “impaired”

    1. National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2010 Budget Summary – DOT Drug Impaired Driving program

    3. Press Release – White House Drug Czar Warns Drugged Driving is a Threat to Public Safety

    5. ONDCP Update Newsletter – January 2010

  2. Buc says:

    Kevin Sabet is an embarrassment to generation X. Or Y. Whichever one he’s a part of. As a Y’er myself, it’s one thing to see old people pushing propaganda (as they’re often too set in their ways to change their mind), but nothing pisses me off more than seeing young people do it. What the hell is wrong with you? The people you’re affecting most are your peers, your friends and the people you’re going to grow old with.


  3. Cliff says:

    The one question which must be asked by everyone regarding ‘drugged driving’ is… Where is the carnage and the crying families of those who were killed by the dope fiend ‘drugged driver’? Our roads are reportedly safer than they ever been and they pull out the doper driver boogey man. Weak and pathetic.

  4. Cliff says:

    Ha Ha. Right after I typed the above comment. CBS’s own Katie Couric reports that our roads are safer than they have been since 1954. No mention of ‘drugged drivers’.

  5. chuck says:

    WOW—Great job Pete. I’ve been following this site (among many others) concerning the draconian drug laws for a long time now. This site is definitely one of my favorites. Excellent work!

    It was interesting to see the comments on the other websites in regards to Gilly’s outrageous lies. Unfortunately, people beLIEve this garbage thanks in part to horrible reporting–no surprise there. The good thing is that Pete commented on those sites to set the record straight. Very well done indeed, Pete.

  6. claygooding says:

    They are jumping through hoops,trying to find any port in this storm. Meanwhile,we really need that driving simulator study done by CMRC and reported as completed but
    still being written up. If the simulator testing was done,it may debunk his whole jockeying scheme for his next assault on marijuana users. They used the same simulators for testing that was used for drunk driving tests and NIDA furnished the marijuana. The study was approved by the DEA but I am sure that if the study shows stoned drivers to be safer than drunk drivers,Kerli will just have issues with this study,the same as he did with the medicine efficiency and safety studies.

  7. MarkEntry says:

    Here’s two Govt studies that blow this latest cannabis prohibition program out of the water. They can be found on Here’s a good one.
    But THC is not a profoundly impairing drug. It does affect automatic information processing, even after low doses, but not to any great extent after high doses. It apparently affects controlled information processing in a variety of laboratory tests, but not to the extent which is beyond the individuals ability to control when he is motivated and permitted to do so in real driving. And, this one is even better. Drivers with cannabis in their blood were less likely to
    cause an accident, with a culpability rate of 50.6 per cent. The study has policy implications for those who
    argue drug detection should be a new focus for road safety. Dr White said the study showed the importance
    of concentrating efforts on alcohol rather than other drugs. Thank you NORML.ORG for this page. Once again, the prohibitionists are trying to use the oldest trick in the book. Scare tactics, instead of truth. No wonder the American people don’t trust the US Govt & are quickly & increasingly turning their backs on pot prohibiton.

  8. Buc says:

    I’m also humored by the title of the Reuters article: U.S. says drugged driving is growing threat.

    Uh, well, no. One person said it. Didn’t know he speaks on behalf of the entire United States. They could at least make it a little more accurate and say ‘U.S. Federal government says…’

  9. kaptinemo says:

    “Kevin Sabet is an embarrassment to generation X. Or Y. Whichever one he’s a part of. As a Y’er myself, it’s one thing to see old people pushing propaganda (as they’re often too set in their ways to change their mind), but nothing pisses me off more than seeing young people do it. What the hell is wrong with you? The people you’re affecting most are your peers, your friends and the people you’re going to grow old with.


    Of course, the prohibs never consider that someday the party will be over, and those they’ve hurt will be in a position to return the favor, in spades, after prohibition ends. For too many good, decent people, far too many, tens of millions in fact, have had their lives ruined by the organizations that people like Mr. Sabet support and so stridently defend.

    For old Babylon Five fans, this sums up my attitude towards those who front for the DrugWar, knowing it privately as a failure but still seeking to feather their nests while they may and while the gravy train still has enough steam. And, yes, in the end, Vir did get his wish. I’ll just settle for them being socially shunned and financially ruined.

  10. DdC says:

    The trouble with professional liars gossiping is it spreads to professional media gossipers like Leprosy. The tax paid employees should always remain non-bias or reformers should get tax exemptions.

    Potential Harms Outweigh Benefits? By Michael Sanders

    No Mic, Potential Prohibition Profits Outweigh Citizens Benefits.

    “Cannabis is one of the least toxic substances
    in the whole pharmacopoeia”
    ~ Professor Lester Grinspoon,
    Harvard Medical School

    “Marijuana”? You want to have a serious adult conversation using racist stigmatic buzzwords like a child’s bogeyman? Ganja from the Ganges River may be the oldest and therefore proper name. Cannabis is the Latin for medicinal research publications, and “journalists” employed by one of 5 corporate “media” networks. With out “Potential”, “only leads to more debates”, “easier access”, “gateway “, “slippery slope” nonsense. Psychic predictions that never pan out. Haven’t since 1937. I’m surprised you left out that it causes homosexuality and communism. Some Schizophrenics and Bi-Polar users find relief and continue, others don’t and they quit using it. Why would anyone use anything they didn’t enjoy? Stop the vested ignorant gossip!

    The 37 Tax Act overturned by Leary in 1969. Then while the “media” shines over a two bit break-in at the Watergate Hotel, Nixon adds Hemp and Medicinal (RxGanja) to the Controlled Substance Act along with re-creational use, Rejecting his own appointed Commission headed by Republican Pa. Governor Shafer. His report concluding, along with hundreds of other studies since the 1800’s Indian Hemp Commission. That cannabis is a fairly benign plant, not addictive, no Gateway and no one steals to buy it or suffers debilitating withdrawals abstaining. It has been safely smoked and vaporized for thousands of years and not one stepping stoned to hard drugs that hadn’t been invented. Smoking weak schwag in the 70’s and comparing it to today’s higher skunk potency is another falsehood, Acapulco Gold, Panama Red or various local strains and Indica, Sinsemilla and some of the best on the planet in Vietnam. As far back as ancient China or Thomas Jefferson.

    “The commission has come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all. … …moderate use of hemp… appears to cause no appreciable physical injury of any kind,… no injurious effects on the mind… [and] no moral injury whatever.”
    ~ Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, 1894


  11. BluOx says:

    Knowing that this sad looking character,GK,is probably the last of the “drug czars”, makes me “high”.

  12. kaptinemo says:

    Blue Ox, I’m just offering my opinion, I don’t have any special insights…or sources.

    I’m just saying that it is only a matter of time for things to get so bad, that very pointed questions will soon be asked of pols about how can we tolerate such government waste as the DrugWar represents when we have increasing numbers of homeless, hungry and desperate people who need that money.

    And that, above all, is what has to be repeated at every opportunity. The money that could be used to help people is being wasted on the DrugWar. Just like a hammer, bang, bang, bang. Every chance we get, pound that thought nail into the consciousness of the electorate. Sooner or later it will stick. And when it does, watch the prohibs squirm like they’ve never had to before. Because they won’t be able to fob off angry, desperate people as they have fobbed off reformers…not without risking vastly more than just public humiliation.

  13. denmark says:

    Absolutely appreciate this comment Of course, the prohibs never consider that someday the party will be over, and those they’ve hurt will be in a position to return the favor, in spades, after prohibition ends. For too many good, decent people, far too many, tens of millions in fact, have had their lives ruined by the organizations that people like Mr. Sabet support and so stridently defend.

  14. claygooding says:

    I foresee a time when being an ex-DEA will be an embarrassment and stigma as bad as it is now to be a pothead.
    And being the drug czar will be an end to their political appointee career,but then of course,all ex DEA and ONDCP’s have the companies that support prohibition to fall back on,just look at the where the prior drug czars work now,if
    they didn’t steal enough money from their budgets too retire.

  15. here’s an easy way to address the drug use versus driving mayhem claims. it only took a short while to get the latest traffic data and then build the graph and page.

  16. Pete says:

    Thanks, Brian. That’s a pretty clear chart.

  17. DdC says:

    MJ Legalization? A White House Rebuttal, Finally
    CN Source: Christian Science Monitor 3.12.10 D.C.
    The Obama White House has finally laid out its most thorough, reasoned rebuttal to arguments for marijuana legalization – countering a campaign that is gaining alarming momentum at the state level.

    “The president’s tough position was delivered in early March by his “drug czar,” Gil Kerlikowske, in a private talk before police chiefs in California” – which is ground zero for this debate.

    “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical”.

    Cannabis and Driving

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
    ~ Thomas Jefferson

  18. Policy Studies Prof says:

    As an academic studying drug policy for more than 30 years, I can say that Gil Kerlikowske is the best thing that ever happened to ONDCP. He is fair and gives science a chance, which is much more than other agencies.

    As for Kevin Sabet, he is actually respected even among the reformers. He is fair minded and obviously is extremely well-learned on these issues. Why don’t you guys give these guys a break? Just because they subscribe to a different viewpoint than yourselves, you should not attack their character and portray them as zealots. They are far from that.

  19. Pete says:

    Policy Studies Prof:

    Being better than John Walters is not much of a recommendation, but I will give you that — Kerlikowske is far better than Walters.

    However, to say that he is “fair and gives science a chance, which is much more than other agencies,” seems to indicate that you didn’t bother to read this post.

    The NHTSA, which conducted the study, was fair and rigorous in their attention to science. They conducted a study with interesting information, but were clear to point out its limitations and what it didn’t say.

    Kerlikowske immediately jumped on that and twisted it to mean what he wanted it to mean, despite the fact that it was completely contrary to the science.

    If Kevin Sabet has been whispering in his ear that they shouldn’t be twisting science that way, then I apologize to him, but that doesn’t change the fact that the leadership in the ONDCP is blatantly lying.

    I wasn’t portraying them necessarily as zealots, but rather as liars. Now I could be wrong and they just created an entire public policy and promoted it to the world in Vienna totally based on a study they didn’t bother to actually read, but that’s not much better.

  20. Floating car says:

    I drive a metropolitan-area bus in a city of 1 million people. It is fulltime rostered shiftwork and I have 23 years experience, with many written and phoned-in commendations from passengers too, probably more than most of the approximately 800 drivers in the company.
    But without the relaxing and transformational powers of the hemp plant, tedium and incendiary frustations left, right and centre would have caused me to quit long ago.
    The violent, hysterical, ignorant suppression of the hemp plant is the real crime and defines the conniving evil that is might-makes-right politics.

  21. DdC says:

    I never said they were zealots.
    I said they were Nazi’s offspring.

    PSP You can’t learn about Ganja/Hemp from censored school books. Therefore trying to teach about it as an academic, leaves zealots. Far more dangerous and ignorant than those knowing little or nothing. They only have to learn. You must unlearn, and have the courage and conviction to unlearn all that academic horshit to maintain rehab corporations profits. Then step back and see why this war is a cash cow if it perpetuates, nothing if its legal or zero tolerance. The only thing that over rides Kooky Kurly’s blatant lapdog boot licking is his utter stupidity pushing lies and jailing sick people. Sabotage is too young to sound like a wrinkled gray haired aqualung drooling over piles of cash from the innocent blood of American children. Raped and pillaged to perpetuate this fraud. He’s still Naive, with a lingering stench of Klintoon and Uncle Rahm. Terrorists DEAth Merchant’s are the scum of the earth traitors persecuting and stealing jobs from Americans, period. Either they already know this and choose to do it anyway, or they’re too stupid to be carrying guns.
    Have a Nice Day

    Al Capone and Watergate were red herrings to divert the countries attention from the Fascist acts of eliminating competition. Booze/Ethanol or Ganja//Hemp. While GOP and DNC continue to bicker over nonsense. Farmers still can’t grow. Drugs and Ganja are Gateways to prison profits and cop-shops bloated budgets, forfeiture and confiscations.

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