Drunk driving, stoned driving, and official lying

Threats to society, in increasing order: (1) stoned driving (2) drunk driving (3) official lying.

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

4 thoughts on “Drunk driving, stoned driving, and official lying”

  1. I’m a concerned citizen, nothing more. But as an ardent supporter of LT&R I do follow this issue closely. While upbraiding ASA may or may not be well-founded, I like to suggest that the axis of discussion has largely pivoted away from protecting patients – something I also fully support – towards HOW to go about full legalization.

    When a Pulitzer Prize winning writer foolishly writes a disingenous piece about her own overdosing, and subsequenlty fails to acknowledge she was warned about it beforehand, we know the axis has shifted.

    ASA and the other groups have become legitimately recognized lobby groups now. All manner of behavior within their institutions reflects their growing size and influence. Despite your objection to their lack of funding for studies, I do believe their efforts to cause dissonance in the body politic and the national conversation to be approximately correct. And for now, I’d rather them be approximately correct than precisely wrong, which the Prohibition crowd nearly always is.

    I don’t always agree with ASA, NORML or the other groups and their approach. But we have to acknowledge their meaningul role in the national conversation. And that, Dr. Kleinman, does count, abd meaningfully so.

    I’m not taking anything away from your points. They all have merit. Hopefully, someday soon, academia can conduct trully effective study so we can all make informed choices, our racial chasms can narrow, and the meaning of freedom will expand to include freedom for all, and socereignty over our own bldies and lives.

    Please keep up the good work.

  2. Why do you think cannabis should be treated neither like alcohol or heroin, but somewhere in between?

  3. As far as danger and toxicity goes, isn’t alcohol more similar to heroin than cannabis is?

Comments are closed.