Today Show Lies About Marijuana DUI


There’s a hot story today about some new research by the American Automobile Association on marijuana in fatal accidents. As usual, media coverage is misleading.

The best example of this media abuse comes from Tom Costello and The Today Show, with a headline asserting marijuana is causing a spike in fatal accidents.


The AAA study (pdf) absolutely does not say that. From page 16:

Drivers who had detectable THC in their blood at the time of the crash were not necessarily experiencing impairment in their ability to drive safely, nor were they necessarily at fault for the crash. Determination of actual impairment or fault status was beyond the scope of the study. Relatedly, many of those who were positive for THC were also positive for alcohol and/or other drugs, which in some cases likely contributed more significantly to the crash than did the THC. Research on the relationship between THC presence and risk of crash involvement has been inconclusive.

In fact, the most recent and thorough study on crash risk from drugs (pdf) found that for both marijuana and other illegal drugs: “analyses … did not show a significant increase in levels of crash risk associated with the presence of drugs.” AAA’s study acknowledged that, but Tom Costello and The Today Show didn’t mention it. Did they actually read the article? Or did they deliberately mischaracterize it?


Other media are covering marijuana DUI research more accurately, but still misunderstand it. Ashley Halsey III of the Washington Post and Joan Lowy of the Associated Press both did a somewhat more responsible job by covering a related AAA study (pdf) that shows that tests measuring the amount of THC in the blood do not reliably indicate impairment.

What both articles get wrong (thanks to misleading or misquoted statements from AAA’s Jake Nelson) is that using police officers trained as “Drug Recognition Experts” (DRE) will solve the problem. First of all, the study does not recommend that approach but rather includes it as one of several options:

In the absence of a scientifically based cannabis per se law, there are several options. One is to train officers to detect the signs and symptoms of cannabis use in drivers stopped at roadside. Initial suspicion of cannabis use would lead to a field sobriety test (SFST). This process could be coupled with rapid, on-site oral fluid screening for evidence of drug use. The technology to detect certain drugs (including cannabis) in a specimen of oral fluid quickly at roadside is improving and could be used in a manner comparable to preliminary breath testing devices currently used to test for alcohol. The suspect would then be taken for a complete drug evaluation by a DRE. This approach requires enhancing the complement of DRE officers available to conduct assessments for impairment.
The … approach, however, does have limitations ….

While the AAA study does discuss some of those limitations, it leaves out the question as to whether police officers with a few hours of training are really qualified to perform neurological and ophthalmological testing and to draw medical conclusions from such testing. They’re not.

It also ignores the evidence mentioned above that marijuana and other illegal drugs do not increase crash risk. The option not mentioned by any of these journalists is to recognize that DUI laws should focus on alcohol. We should stop wasting time and money – and stop arresting and prosecuting innocent drivers – over things that do not increase crash risk.

8 replies on “Today Show Lies About Marijuana DUI”

  1. Keeping it real and keeping it equal, does one get a DUI ticket for the presents of alcohol or because there is a scientifically determined level of alcohol?

    The question remains untested and undocumented. Is someone automatically impaired just for a positive test or are they legally impaired at an XYZ level?

    3 weeks after I smoked a joint doesn’t automatically mean I’m impaired to drive. However I will likely test positive.

    Does this have anything to do with the Drug Manufacturers?

    If I’m going to be busted for “just” testing positive, then we need to start testing for all other drugs and a mear positive test should get anyone busted to impaired driving. Including the driver that had one drink an hour ago and tests positive.

  2. Can’t get into my account or sign in. This isn’t worth the trouble. How can I un-subscribe?

  3. Ralph Nader wrote a book about this in 1965 Called “Unsafe at any Speed.”….It has nothing to do with accidents or actual safety. Our state’s new driver’s manual states the reason for roadblocks is to remove “financially irresponsible” drivers….It’s just another way to oppress the poor working class while raking in revenue and private profit for MADD (posing as the “Victim’s Fund), officer retirements, higher insurance rates and an excuse not to pay a claim and of course, private probation companies. Not to mention they get federal grant subsidies and bonus checks for arrests…Nice they have access to our bank accounts. An “accident” in political terms is a “genetic mistake.”

  4. This is a HUGE slippery slope!
    For a LONG time, there was a presumption of .10 BAC as ‘drunk’, regardless of how well you drove when apprehended. That way, a stop for other purposes or even a DUI checkpoint, and the officer observes signs of impairment (whether by simple observation or administration of VOLUNTARY FSTs, inevitably ‘failed’), and then arrests and the suspect shows above the limit BAC per the chemical test (if administered IAW correct procedures), the DUI conviction is almost certain. From the ‘halfway’ point of .05 BAC, which some drivers will ‘hold their liquor’ well, and others will not, there is a lesser charge of IMPAIRED driving, but there has to be additional evidence (weaving in traffic, for example), the BAC level alone won’t convict. Then the MADD folks got in and got the presumed BAC level lowered to .08, WITHOUT any peer-reviewed studies to justify the lower level, with a very Conservative POTUS, Ronald Reagan, disregarding the Ninth and Tenth Amendments in threatening states with withholding of Federal Highway Funds (which THEY, and not the Feds, collect at the pump in fuel taxes, and cheerfully funnel back to Washington, that was the original scheme of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, your “Defense” Highways, remember?) if they didn’t lower the BAC level to .08. Now “Yew-Tah” (Utah) wants to lower the presumed drunk level to .05 BAC, again, not on any scientific basis nor reasonable weight of several peer-review studies.

    While the two tattooed, bikini-clad hotties in the photo hitting the bong pipe should NOT be driving (and they’d be completely idiotic to be doing so even in a parked car, as the cops can seize the vehicle, explain THAT to Dad and/or the boyfriend!), it defies logic that someone who did as Sublime extoled “Smoked Two Joints Last Night”, is impaired to any measurable degree some 24 hours later, let alone two or three weeks, when there is still a trace amount of THC in the body. This is tantamount to a end-run form of “Prohibition”, in spite of overwhelming public sentiment that marijuana use should be legal, or at least not a criminal offense.

    And what of Rx? Many folks, many of whom are the ‘stolid’, conservative type, regularly take opoids and other painkillers to deal with chronic pain, including arthritis, as well as dealing with a cancer treatment regimen. Many a blood test would reveal the presence of a compound which MAY be one of these substances, but will be either non-specific or at a level that no medical science has evaluated as to effect on driving or operating heavy equipment. Most labels caution, ‘use CARE in driving or operating machinery’. What, pray tell, from a standpoint of being guilty, or not, of ‘drugged’ driving, is this, “CARE”???

    This is more relevant given the latest in (d)DUI so-called enforcement: If a subject is arrest on suspicion of DUI, and he takes the Breathalyzer test, and “Blow Clean”, he will immediately be RE-ARRESTED on a charge of “Drugged” driving, and a blood draw forcibly taken! This in complete contravention to most state laws, which give the suspect the choice of test type. The motivation? To actually CATCH ‘drugged’ drivers? Hardly! It because the DUI convictions are going DOWN, which one would think a sign of SUCCESS, but no, the states and municipalities are frantic for money, so they see this as a way to garner in more and very heavy fines and court fees. Add to that many jurisdictions will impose a ‘booking fee’ on top of all that, even if the case is dismissed (for lack of evidence, meaning you were innocent all along), never mind the considerable towing fees when your ride goes to impound while you go to the slammer to get tested, which these tow companies, of course, are sure to give the officers and politicians a wee ‘honorarium’ for the business! The whole system is completely corrupt and lacks credibility.

  5. If a DUI checkpoint is signed as such, the police have NO probable cause to demand your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Of course you must legally register your vehicle, pay the applicable fees, and comply with the financial responsibility involved. A DUI checkpoint is supposed to be limited to that, and the officer(s) may only take action based on what would give them ‘reasonable suspicion’ to investigate further. If they saw a bong pipe on the floorboard in plain view, they would have probable cause to arrest (possession of drug paraphernalia) and get a search warrant of the vehicle. But a DUI checkpoint is a close examination for the LIMITED purpose of evaluating potentially impaired drivers, NOT an LEO “Free-For-All” to disregard the Constitution.

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