Pubdate: Thu, 19 May 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Linda Stansberry


The American Automobile Association's name cropped up in several 
articles this month on the topic of driving while under the influence 
of marijuana. On the basis of headlines alone, the organization, 
which often weighs in on issues effecting motorists, appears to have 
added its influence to a conflicting array of opinions.

Tests that examine marijuana impairment are flawed, the AAA declared 
on May 10. However, on the same day, the organization announced that 
cannabis-involved traffic fatalities in Washington have almost 
doubled since the state legalized the drug. So, what's the takeaway 
for reductionist fear-mongers and/or bong-clutching commuters?

Well, science is hard, and creating sexy news from science is even 
harder. In fact, these two newsbytes came from the same series of 
studies (hence why they were reported on the same day). And the 
findings are not mutually exclusive. First, the Washington fatality 
rates: Between 2012 and 2014, the number of drivers killed with 
marijuana in their systems jumped from 8 to 17 percent. Colorado saw 
a similar rise, according to some statistics, from 10 to 19 percent. 
However, correlation is not always causation. The Washington study 
has a couple of big caveats: It doesn't say whether the drivers 
involved in the crashes were at fault, or whether those drivers, who 
had THC in their systems, were actually impaired by the THC at the 
time of the crashes. And, concludes the study, it's hard to measure 
what impairment really means when it comes to pot.

The current limit in most states with marijuana DUI laws on the books 
is 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood, as measured by 
a post-traffic stop blood test. But what that looks like on the road 
can vary from person to person; a dedicated stoner with a high 
tolerance may not be fazed by this amount, while a wobbly-kneed 
newbie might be lost behind the wheel. Also, the amount of THC in the 
blood can drop quite a bit between being pulled over and getting 
tested. Testing for alcohol in the blood is generally a more 
straightforward process, but AAA calls current tests for marijuana 
impairment "unscientific."

And unfair, alleges Manny Daskal, a local attorney specializing in 
defending DUI cases. Daskal says he's left messages with Assemblyman 
Jim Wood several times to register his disdain for Assembly Bill 
2740, which would institute a 5-nanogram limit for California 
drivers. The bill - which recently went before the Assembly Committee 
on Public Safety - is rather wacky, as it was drafted as a human 
trafficking bill and has undergone significant revisions. It includes 
a clause stating, "It is unlawful for a person who is addicted to the 
use of any drug to drive a vehicle." Daskal sees some sinister mechanisms.

"My take on it politically is that the government's going to be 
losing a lot of money [after legalization] because they'll no longer 
charge people with cultivation or possession," he said, adding that 
people who are stoned actually drive better than people who aren't, 
because they're more careful. Sounds scientific.

"Marijuana/cannabis makes people driving with alcohol in their 
systems actually better drivers than if they had only alcohol in 
their systems," he doubled down in a follow-up email. Daskal could 
not immediately give us numbers on how many DUI cases he had 
successfully defended.

AAA is calling for better roadside tests to prove impairment, tests 
that rely on behavioral and physiological evidence. The old chestnut 
"recite the alphabet backwards" might work for some, but Journal 
staffers have some additional suggestions on how to judge if you're 
too high to drive.

1. Did you hit a pothole on Port Kenyon Road, freak out, get out to 
see if you'd accidentally hit a dog, then lock your keys in the car?

2. Sublime: Just bitchin', or really bitchin'?

3. They got to the four-way stop first, didn't they? Didn't they?

4. Look at your hand. No, really look at it.

5. Are you on your way to White Castle after watching Harold and 
Kumar Go to White Castle only to remember that Humboldt County 
doesn't have a White Castle and get lost and end up in that part of 
McKinleyville where there are those houses that look like castles, 
which is really fucking trippy?

6. Finish this sentence: Did you ever think about how ...
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