Review Paper: Marijuana’s Driving Impact Less Than That Of Alcohol

CALIFORNIA: Cannabis’ impact on driving performance is generally less pronounced than that of alcohol, according to a review paper published by a pair of New York University researchers and BOTEC Analysis, LLC.

Authors reported that the use of cannabis, absent the simultaneous use of other drugs or alcohol, creates “only a fraction of the risks associated with driving at the legal 0.08 BAC threshold, let alone the much higher risks associated with higher levels of alcohol.” By contrast, they report that “the simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis is linked to higher levels of driver impairment than either alone” – a finding that is consistent with much of the available literature.

They conclude, “The maximum risk for cannabis intoxication alone, unmixed with alcohol or other drugs, appears to be more comparable to risks such as talking on a hands-free cellphone (legal in all states) than to driving with a BAC above 0.08.” As a result, they suggest that as a matter of policy, “stoned driving alone (not involving alcohol or other drugs), should be treated as a traffic infraction rather than as a crime, unless aggravated by recklessness, aggressiveness, or high speed.”

In virtually all instances, cannabis-influenced driving is classified as a criminal rather than an administrative offense.

Investigators also argued against the imposition of per se limits which criminalize the act of operating a vehicle with trace levels of either THC or THC metabolites in one’s blood or urine. They determined: “Blood THC is not a good proxy either for recency of use or for impairment, and the dose-effect curve for fatality risk remains a matter of sharp controversy. … Moreover, the lipid-solubility of THC means that a frequent cannabis user will always have measurable THC in his or her blood, even when that person has not used recently and is neither subjectively intoxicated nor objectively impaired.”

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Automobile Association(AAA) take a similar stance against the use of blood/THC concentrations as per se evidence of psychomotor impairment. NORML has long articulated similar opposition, stating, “Per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds … are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus. … [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes.”


Full text of the paper, “Driving While Stoned: Issues and Policy Options,” is available online. NORML’s fact-sheet, “Marijuana and Psychomotor Performance,” is online.

Vermont Lawmakers Threaten To Reinstate Prohibition If Pot Isn’t Legalized

VERMONT: Vermont may well become the next state to legalize marijuana, and two state lawmakers who support legalization have a simple message for their colleagues: Give us what we want, or we’ll take away your booze.

A new bill filed earlier this month by state Reps. Jean O’Sullivan and Christopher Pearson would effectively reinstate alcohol prohibition in Vermont. If passed, House Bill 502 would outlaw consumption of alcohol, with penalties mirroring those currently in place for marijuana possession. Those found with small amounts of alcohol would be subject to fines of up to $500, and anyone involved in the sale and distribution stream could face up to 30 years in prison and $1 million in penalties.

O’Sullivan herself acknowledges that even she doesn’t support the substance of the bill. Rather, “the object was to basically embarrass leadership to say that we have [marijuana legalization bills] in front of us, and they’re going absolutely nowhere,” she told The Huffington Post.

Alcohol or Marijuana? A Pediatrician Faces the Question

Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. He blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter at @aaronecarroll.

NEW YORK:  As my children, and my friends’ children, are getting older, a question that comes up again and again from friends is this: Which would I rather my children use — alcohol or marijuana?

The immediate answer, of course, is “neither.” But no parent accepts that. It’s assumed, and not incorrectly, that the vast majority of adolescents will try one or the other, especially when they go to college. So they press me further.

The easy answer is to demonize marijuana. It’s illegal, after all. Moreover, its potential downsides are well known. Scans show that marijuana use is associated with potential changes in the brain. It’s associated with increases in the risk of psychosis. It may be associated with changes in lung function or long-term cancer risk, even though a growing body of evidence says that seems unlikely. It can harm memory, it’s associated with lower academic achievement, and its use is linked to less success later in life.

But these are all associations, not known causal pathways. It may be, for instance, that people predisposed to psychosis are more likely to use pot. We don’t know. Moreover, all of these potential dangers seem scary only when viewed in isolation. Put them next to alcohol, and everything looks different