The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has mostly concerned itself of late with the IRS scandal, the problematic rollout of the Obamacare website, and the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. But on Thursday, the panel turned its attention to marijuana use by drivers, including pilots, subway train operators, mariners, and school bus drivers.
At the hearing, called “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned,” members heard testimony about the impact of driving under the influence of marijuana. Rep. John Mica, who once held up a fake joint at another hearing, lambasted the federal government for its “chaotic and inconsistent policies on marijuana.”
There’s no federal benchmark for THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — like there is for blood alcohol content, because under federal law any consumption of marijuana is illegal. Some states that have decriminalized medical or recreational marijuana use have implemented their own benchmarks. Colorado, for example, has set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
Since THC is fat-soluble, it can remain in your system long after its intoxicating effects have worn off. In states such as Illinois, where marijuana is still illegal, having any trace of THC in your system — even if you smoked weed days before getting pulled over — can get you a DUI.
Colorado traffic cops have also been trained to recognize the behavior of drivers who may be under the influence of marijuana, as part of its “Drive high, get a DUI” campaign.
But the science behind marijuana intoxication and driving is still murky. There’s no such thing as a “weed breathalyzer.” And unlike alcohol, marijuana (and other drugs) can have vastly different effects, depending on who’s using it. THC does not metabolize as predictably as alcohol, so it’s more difficult to set a concrete level at which someone can be considered intoxicated — and impaired.
And unlike alcohol DUIs, which are tracked at the state level, marijuana intoxication is not monitored as closely, making it more difficult to ascertain how much of a problem it is. One study found that, between 1999 and 2010, the proportion of people killed while driving with marijuana in their system tripled, from 4 percent to 12 percent. But that data was inconclusive, because it’s impossible to know whether those drivers consumed marijuana that day, or a week before their accident.
Among the research into intoxicated driving, one data point remains true: Alcohol use is the No. 1 cause of death on American roadways. In 2012, alcohol accounted for 31 percent of driving fatalities — killing more than 10,000 people nationwide.
A 1993 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drivers under the influence of marijuana are generally slower, clumsier, and have difficulty staying in their lane. “Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort,” the report’s authors found at the time. “As a consequence, THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”
Some users can still drive competently with a high dosage of THC. One driver in Washington — where marijuana is now legal — was able to pass a road test with seven times the legal limit of THC in her system. Still, with any intoxicating substance, it’s better to be safe than sorry. But while marijuana is an increasing concern on the road, the more dangerous problem continues to be our relationship to a substance that’s already legal.
What We're Following See More »
The Republicans you heard chanting "build that wall!" last week in Cleveland are in the minority, a new poll from Gallup finds. While 62 percent of Republicans favor building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, just 33 percent of Americans hold that view. Conversely, 84 percent of Americans, including 76 percent of Republicans, favor allowing those living in the U.S. without proper documentation to become citizens "if they meet certain requirements over a period of time."
According to a new CNN/ORC poll, Donald Trump emerged from the GOP convention "ahead of Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, topping her 44% to 39% in a four-way matchup including Gary Johnson (9%) and Jill Stein (3%) and by three points in a two-way head-to-head, 48% to 45%. That latter finding represents a 6-point convention bounce for Trump, which are traditionally measured in two-way matchups." Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll shows Trump leading by four points nationally. He had been down two points in the same poll a week ago.
As the Democratic National Convention gets underway today in Philadelphia, some prominent Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are nowhere to be found. "At least four candidates in major races are opting out, including Russ Feingold, who is challengingSen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin; Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is taking on Sen. John McCain in Arizona; Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who is running against Sen. Roy Blunt; and Catherine Cortez Masto, who is battling Rep. Joe Heck in Nevada for the seat vacated by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid." The candidates have stated their decisions aren't motivated by a desire to avoid being tied to the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton this week in a prime-time speech. "The news is an unexpected move from Mr. Bloomberg, who has not been a member of the Democratic Party since 2000; was elected the mayor of New York City as a Republican; and later became an independent. But it reflects Mr. Bloomberg’s increasing dismay about the rise of Donald J. Trump and a determination to see that the Republican nominee is defeated."