NBC News has posted this gem of a headline, "Pot Fuels Surge In Drugged Driving Deaths." Like every good story, it leads with a compelling anecdote—in this case, someone who was killed by a stoned driver. Then it cites the following statistics:
As medical marijuana sales expanded into 20 states, legal weed was detected in the bodies of dead drivers three times more often during 2010 when compared to those who died behind the wheel in 1999, according to a new study from Columbia University published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
“The trend suggests that marijuana is playing an increased role in fatal crashes,” said Dr. Guohua Li, a co-author and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University Medical Center. The researchers examined data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), spanning more than 23,000 drivers killed during that 11-year period.
But wait! Buried towards the bottom of the article are these statistics:
A separate study — also based on FARS data — found that in states where medical marijuana was approved, traffic fatalities decrease by as much as 11 percent during the first year after legalization. Written by researchers at the University of Colorado, Oregon and Montana State University, the paper was published in 2013 in the Journal of Law & Economics.
Those authors theorized pot, for some, becomes a substitute for alcohol. They cited a recent, 13-percent drop in drunk-driving deaths in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“Marijuana reform is associated with … a decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely due to its impact on alcohol consumption,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association in Colorado.
So there’s an increase in marijuana-related crashes in states with some form of legalized pot, but there’s also a corresponding decrease in alcohol-related crashes. The net result is a decrease in the overall number of traffic fatalities. Yet NBC still chose to run a headline that, without context, suggests that legal pot is leading to more traffic fatalities, which it is not. The opposite is in fact true.
Most people aren’t going to dig to the bottom of the article to get this important contextual information. Instead, they’ll see the headline, read the first couple paragraphs, and the message they’ll get is that legal pot is increasing the number of traffic fatalities—without realizing that legal pot has actually reduced traffic fatalities overall.
Presenting the story in this manner is irresponsible. The headline is misleading, as are the initial supporting paragraphs. A lot of people are going to walk away from this article with the wrong message because NBC presented it in a poor fashion. And now, we get to listen to anti-pot crusaders tell us about how legal pot activists have blood on their hands, despite the fact that legal pot hasn’t actually increased the number of people dying in traffic fatalities. It has actually reduced them. And if this story leads people in battleground states to vote against legalized pot, it will be NBC that has blood on its hands, not legalization activists.
18 Members of Congress signed a letter to President Obama today asking him to remove Marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act:
“We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana. Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws,” the letter reads, “Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.”
You can read the full text of the letter here.
This week a Texas grand jury declined to indict a marijuana grower for shooting and killing a sheriff’s deputy who burst into his home in the early morning to execute a search warrant. Henry Goedrich Magee, who was indicted on drug and weapon charges (the latter only because he was growing marijuana), said he believed Burleson County Sgt. Adam Sowders was a burglar. “This was a terrible tragedy that a deputy sheriff was killed, but Hank Magee believed that he and his pregnant girlfriend were being robbed,” Magee’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told A.P. “He did what a lot of people would have done. He defended himself and his girlfriend and his home.”
DeGuerin, a well-known defense attorney who has been practicing for half a century, said “he could not immediately remember another example of a Texas grand jury declining to indict a defendant in the death of a law enforcement officer.” That sort of outcome is rare not just in Texas but throughout the country, since people who shoot cops invading their homes usually do not get the same benefit of the doubt as cops do when the roles are reversed. (Just ask Cory Maye.)
Rare indeed. This is a big win for civil liberties advocates of every stripe. While I don’t relish the thought of police officers being shot to death, it is no crime for a person that genuinely and reasonably fears for their life to defend themselves using deadly force. It is not the homeowner’s fault that he reasonably feared for his life when his door was busted down in the middle of the night by armed men shouting at the top of their lungs.
This is a perfect example of why these types of drug raids are dangerous to everyone involved. Police frequently execute these raids in the middle of the night, often using no-knock warrants when people are asleep, startling the inhabitants and leading them to believe that their house is being invaded by an intruder. This creates a low-information/high-stress environment where tragic consequences are entirely predictable. These raids are completely unnecessary in most cases where they are used, and they put everyone involved—police officers and home-owners alike— in unnecessary danger.
From the article:
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber told newspaper editors last week that the Beaver State needs to get ready for legal weed.
"I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado," Kitzhaber said, The Oregonian reported. “I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system. The legislature would be the right place to craft that.”
A recent poll showed 57 percent of the state’s likely 2014 voters support recreational marijuana legalization. Oregon has already decriminalized cannabis and legalized it for medical use.
After a poorly coordinated and widely criticized marijuana legalization effort that failed in 2012, marijuana legalization advocates are now approaching the issue from two sides, both with a ballot initiative and through lobbying state lawmakers for legislative action.
"A majority of Americans support ending marijuana prohibition, and that surely includes a majority of Oregonians," said Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project, to The Huffington Post. "Voters will surely welcome a well-written law that effectively regulates and taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol."
Neither the President or Congress has yet to meaningfully address the Constitutional Federalism crisis that now exists in America as a result of the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. As it stands, every single marijuana dispensary owner in Colorado and Washington is, as I write this, guilty of drug trafficking under Title 21 of the Federal Code. Policy memos from the DOJ (or any other federal agency for that matter) aren’t binding legal precedent, and aren’t going to keep a dispensary owner out of federal prison.
The President and Congress can fix this by amending Title 21 of the federal code. There are currently bills in Congress to accomplish this task. The President needed only urge for their passage. This is a concrete reform that would not only “make our union stronger” by resolving a current crisis in American federalism, but protect thousands of new jobs that presently remain in the specter of federal prosecution. If the President really cares about protecting jobs, he could use his bully pulpit to protect the jobs that Colorado and Washington recently created by making their Marijuana industry legal.
The potential for Federal Drug Law Reform to revolutionize this country is significant. There are few policies that simultaneously reduce the size of government, create jobs, and uplift vulnerable communities. Reforming Federal Marijuana laws in particular is a straightforward and easy way for The President to pave the way for more states to legalize Marijuana, and eventually, end Marijuana Prohibition for good. It would save America a billion dollars a year. It would protect the hundreds of thousands of people arrested every year for marijuana possession. The sheer amount of good in peoples’ lives that this one policy change alone could do is unbelievable.
So it’s great that the President wants to raise the minimum wage. Unfortunately, people who are sitting in prison for violating federal marijuana laws won’t be seeing the benefit of that legislation, which they could really use, since prisoner wages are closer to .25 cents an hour, and families of prisoners are regularly gouged by prison administrators and private contractors (though I guess that doesn’t matter politically, since many of them can’t vote once they leave prison).
These people need help. It’s help that the President, working with Congress, can deliver. This is the kind of reform I would’ve loved to see tonight. It is desperately needed, and the politics of it are quite possible: the President would not taking a huge risk by putting this on the table. The majority of Americans now support Marijuana legalization. There is bi-partisan support for it in Congress. This is a huge missed opportunity, and part of the reason why this was another disappointing State of the Union address, chock full of missed opportunities that are buried behind the self-congratulatory bluster and political euphemisms these speeches have become famous for.
I’m happy to say that my prediction for who would end up in the super bowl came true. The scariest offense in the league against the scariest defense. This will be a great super bowl.
I’m also happy that the two teams come from the two states that recently legalized marijuana. Clearly the two are connected. And every body who wants their team in the super bowl next year should run to their state legislators and tell them to end pot Prohibition now. Super bowl dreams depend on it.
Photo Source: Reason
The horrors of legalization made manifest: laughter. Silliness. Smiles. The stuff of nightmares.