As if on cue, the day after I blasted the dishonesty of a group of cannabis advocates, comes Radley Balko to report what appears to be an even more outrageous bit of bamboozlement from the anti-pot side. It now comes out that the “stoned driver” who plowed his truck into a pair of police cars with flashing lights had a blood-alcohol content of .268%, which Balko (or at least his headline-writer) correctly identifies, using the relevant technical vocabulary, as “drunk off his gourd.” (Sometimes read as “drunk out of his gourd,” or the shorter and more graphic “sh*tfaced.”) This driver was at more than three times the legal limit of .08%.
The involvement of alcohol is hardly surprising. Drunk driving is much more dangerous than stoned driving, and the combination is worse than either drug alone.
Yes, Keith Kilbey was also at about double Colorado’s legal limit for THC. But, as Balko points out, it’s virtually impossible to believe that the cops at the scene didn’t notice that the driver was blotto; a Breathalyzer would have been routine under the circumstances. So when state police Cpl. Heather Cobler told reporters that “we believe marijuana” caused the crash, she was almost certainly being … economical with the truth. If I were running the Colorado State Police, Cpl. Cobler would have a whole bunch of ‘splainin’ to do. The credibility of police as witnesses is a key resource for law enforcement; if they routinely lie to reporters, why should jurors believe them?
But the responsibility here goes way above a corporal’s pay-grade; the department should have come forward to correct the story as soon as the toxicology results were in, rather than waiting for others to notice the falsity of the original assertion. It seems to me that reporters in Colorado should be demanding an official explanation of how the misstatement was made, why it wasn’t promptly and frankly corrected, and what institutional steps are being taken to prevent the repetition of such misconduct. Whether reporters ask or not, it’s the responsibility of the department to make the necessary inquiries and take appropriate administrative action.
The deeper problem is that too many of the nation’s cops and prosecutors, and too many of the agencies they work for, act as if they had a personal and official stake in the continued criminalization of cannabis. Whether cannabis should be treated like heroin, like alcohol, or – as I believe – somewhere in between, is not a matter on which the people who enforce the law ought to be opining. What’s legal or not is a matter for legislators and voters; the job of police and prosecutors is to enforce the laws democratically enacted.
Of course that doesn’t apply when currently legal activities – selling and consuming alcohol, for example, or selling guns – facilitate other, illegal activities. Then it’s appropriate for law enforcers to bring forward their technical knowledge about how non-criminal behavior links in to criminal behavior, and what further laws might help reduce the violation of existing laws. But since the link between cannabis and non-drug crime runs almost entirely through the fact that cannabis is illegal, I can see no legitimate law-enforcement interest in maintaining that illegality.
Footnote Balko links to a useful Vox summary taking down most of the claims about how Colorado’s legalization has been a disaster. I think it might turn out to have some very bad results over time, but nothing you could spot this early in the game, and in fact nothing unexpectedly bad seems to have happened so far.