Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gateway Propaganda

They’re at it again.

This week, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) launched a campaign to tell young people that driving under the influence of marijuana is just as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol. It’s called “Steer Clear of Pot”.

Before I get into why this campaign is a bad idea, let me first say this: I am not for kids driving around high. Young people who are just learning how to drive shouldn’t be doing anything distracting, whether they are text messaging friends, putting on make-up, or passing a bowl. Marijuana reduces reaction time and often slows judgment, which can be very dangerous when one is not used to the rules of the road. Furthermore, cars are the easiest place to be caught and arrested for marijuana possession. High-rides are simply not a good idea.

With that being said, I should note that there is also a large body of evidence showing that, for the most part, marijuana does not significantly alter a person’s risk of having a car accident. While these studies vary slightly, they all show that the risk of driving while stoned is significantly lower than driving while drunk.

In their press release, the ONDCP cites a study from a shock trauma unit that found that 19% of automobile crash victims under age 18 tested positive for marijuana. There are two major problems with this statistic:

1. Non-psychoactive trace levels of marijuana can be found in the body days and weeks after using it. And since most high school seniors admit to having smoked marijuana, it seems obvious that at least 19% of students involved in car crashes would be found with trace levels of marijuana in their system.

2. There is no account for the overlap of those found with marijuana and alcohol in their blood. It seems obvious that many teens who drink and drive also smoke marijuana. In this study, a teen who chugs a pint of vodka and takes a hit of a joint before getting into a car accident will show up in the 19% statistic of “marijuana-induced driving accidents”, even though the real cause of the accident was clearly the alcohol.

The misinformation perpetuated by the Steer Clear of Pot Campaign is part of a dangerous national trend. We first saw it when we were in the DARE program; there is no difference between drugs—they are all evil. And now, the ONDCP has declared an all out war on marijuana, identifying it as the biggest drug threat.

But when teens grow up thinking that marijuana is as dangerous as crack or meth, and then they finally experiment with marijuana (as most do), everything they’ve learned about truly dangerous drugs falls apart. “If marijuana’s not so bad... then crack must not be that bad either... right?”

And when we teach them that driving high is just as bad as driving drunk, and they finally drive an hour or two after smoking a joint and realize that it didn't make them run red lights or swerve off the road...

You got it. The Steer Clear of Pot campaign is nothing more than a gateway to drunk driving.


Jason said...

Great post!

It's worth noting that if you dig into the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, you'll find that the percentage of kids using marijuana in the past month climbs to about 19% by 18-years-old.

Pete Guither said...

There's a third problem with the study. It specifically does not identify whether the crash victim was driving, a passenger, or a pedestrian.

Kris said...

Leave it to the ONDCP to take a perfectly reasonable piece of advice (Don't drive when you're stoned!) and turn it into misleading, erroneous propaganda.

At this point, such advice would be better handled and more readily received if it were delivered by advocates of cannabis legalization.

Micah Daigle said...

Jason: Great find! That statistic shows even more solid proof that marijuana use has little to do with dangerous driving (though, again, I'll admit that it's generally not a good idea, especially for new drivers).

Pete: Great point. Just noticed you had already blogged about this campaign this week and also last year. Looks like this campaign isn't quite as "new" as His Czarness is making it out to be.

Another great point that you brought up in your post last year is that this has little to do with protecting youth, and alot to do with using youth as a tool to create hysteria-driven drugged driving laws.

The difference between drugged-driving laws and drunk-driving laws, of course, is that you can be arrested for simply having trace levels of illegal drugs in your system, regardless of whether or not you are impaired!

And Kris: You're right. "Legalizers" need to account for the risks of marijuana instead of simply embracing the benefits. IMO, MPP's tax & regulate campaign in Nevada is a good model for this, in that it establishes a system of I.D. checks and strict penalties for selling to minors. Though, I believe the commercials also tout "strict penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana", and I would be interested in seeing what this would entail (how would people be tested? what would be the THC limit?)

Anonymous said...

"Marijuana reduces reaction time and often slows judgment"

Doesn't marijuana marajuana increase reaction time and impair judgement?