Journalists were once respected observers and critics of American life. That’s rarely the case today because of shallow reports such as “Answers to five questions about driving and cannabis,” from KXTV in Sacramento, California. The first question, “Does cannabis impair driving the way alcohol does?” dominated the report. The reporter Sarah Moore didn’t even attempt to answer the question, but merely cited four references to show two sides of the argument.
The first, a report from RMHIDTA showed a 48% increase of cannabis-related traffic deaths since pot was legalized in Colorado. The second was a AAA report showing a doubling of fatalities due to cannabis-using drivers between 2013 and 2014. Both reports rely upon testing of the presence of marijuana’s THC and its inactive metabolite in drivers, rather than upon testing driver impairment. This limits any conclusions that can be drawn from the data and it certainly does nothing to prove pot’s role in car crashes.
Moore said that a third study from NHTSA found that drivers testing positive for marijuana were no more likely to crash than those who hadn’t used drugs or alcohol. Moore was incorrect. The study failed to find a link between marijuana’s THC and crashes. That’s far different from finding that there is no link between marijuana’s THC and crashes. Especially with a study that was not designed to detect such a link in the first place. See our earlier analysis of this report.
The final referenced study was from 1993 that recognized slight impairment, but that drivers recognized their impairment and therefore drove more slowly. Most scholars typically discount old studies of this type using marijuana with less than 20% of today’s potency. Colorado State Patrol reports that the number one reason for stopping drivers ultimately charged with marijuana-impaired driving is speeding, not driving too slowly.
A selection of more useful and valid references would prove that marijuana does impair driving, but not the way alcohol does. Current data support the belief that marijuana causes less impairment than alcohol, but the impairment can still be sufficient to cause death and serious bodily injury to both marijuana users as well as innocent victims. Hence the many warning labels you’ll see on recreational and medical cannabis packages that contain the likes of this death bubba weed, that urges you to never operate any vehicle under the influence of cannabis.
Moore claimed there is no effective way to test for cannabis impairment, since THC is hard to measure in blood. She clearly doesn’t understand the differences between impairment measures and drug presence measures.
Lest one believe I’m bashing all journalists with the above critique, permit me to congratulate Evan George, a journalist with KCRW in Santa Monica, California, whose similar report contained two mistakes, but cannot be considered to be shallow.