By on October 9, 2010

If you think Baruth’s series on speeding demonstrated both a lack of adult responsibility and abundant sociopathology, you’re going to love this.

Every state in the union has DUID, driving under the influence of drugs, statutes in their traffic codes. In Michigan, though, you may not even have to actually be “under the influence” to be convicted. A few years ago, as part of a package of drunk driving legislation passed to maintain the flow of Federal highway funds, Michigan’s vehicle code (257.625.8) now states:

8) A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person has in his or her body any amount of a controlled substance listed in schedule 1…(emphasis added)

Schedule 1 substances are the usual suspects: heroin, cocaine, marijuana, other opiates, indole amines (psychedelics) amphetamines, barbiturates etc. Note the “any amount” part. If Johnny Law can prove that in your body you had even the smallest trace amount of illegal drugs when you were driving, you’re in deep trouble. Impairment is not the legal standard when it comes to driving and drugs, simple presence of the controlled substance is. Let’s say you aren’t a doper but went to a rock concert and the people around you were smoking pot. Due to second hand smoke you probably ended up inhaling at least a few THC molecules. If you could smell it, it got in your body even if it wasn’t enough to get you high or even have you notice any effect at all. It is, however, any amount, and state of the art blood testing equipment can measure substances in your blood at virtually any amount. Modern testing can measure concentrations as dilute as a single picogram per milliliter (pg/ml). A milliliter of water weighs one gram. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram. That concentration is the equivalent of one drop of oil in a 10 mile long train of tank cars filled with water. While that level of dilution is almost homeopathic, it’s still measurable. If it’s measurable, you broke the law, impaired or not.

It gets worse. The above statute references Michigan PA 368 of 1978 that in addition to the cited substances, their “derivatives” are also criminalized. It’s likely that the legislature intended that to apply to psychoactive derivatives, so-called designer drugs that were being developed in the late 1970s as a means of getting around the laws as they were then written. Unfortunately, the way that Michigan police agencies interpret the law, derivatives also include completely inert and non-psychoactive metabolites that your body creates as it processes the drugs. You can be convicted of drugged driving even if you aren’t really drugged.

Marijuana users face particular scrutiny under this enforcement regime.

Unlike many drugs like opiates and psychedelics, that are quickly digested and whose metabolites are quickly flushed out of the body, THC and its metabolites are fat soluble and are stored in fatty tissue. That’s one reason why former pot smokers will sometimes get a buzz, on top of the endorphin rush, when they do vigorous exercise. Burning off the fat releases some THC stored in that fat into your blood. Marijuana is a relatively benign drug but it has a very long half-life. You can shoot heroin on Saturday night and by Tuesday you’ll test negative. You can smoke a joint at a Memorial Day picnic, and still test positive on Labor Day. Even without the very latest pico level testing equipment you can still test positive for the presence of THC or its metabolites for many months, sometimes years, after ingesting the drug stops. With the latest equipment, a heavy smoker would probably test positive for life, decades after stopping. That’s why when companies drug test employees, for marijuana use there is a relative scale based on the level of THC found. A pass/fail, presence/no presence standard would fail too many people that don’t currently use marijuana, the practical equivalent to a false positive. While businesses may use a reasonable standard so they can keep good employees, a reasonable standard can get in the way of putting someone in jail or generating some revenue with fines.

Any amount is any amount and in 2006 the Michigan state Supreme Court ruled that “any amount” of “derivatives” means exactly that. For a while you could be convicted of OWPD (operating with the presence of drugs) even if you never smoked a joint or snorted a line and were as-sober-as-a-judge-whose-father-was-a-Methodist-minister when you got behind the wheel. In July of 2010, because of Michigan’s medical marijuana act, the court reconsidered the question and overturned its previous ruling, saying that the legislature’s definition of metabolites was vague and the law, as enforced, made it virtually impossible for patients using medical marijuana to ever legally drive.

Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Michael F. Cavanagh said, “Individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes will be prohibited from driving long after the person is no longer impaired.”

Predictably, police officers in the state, never eager to give up any power, any tool to generate revenue and put people in jail, were not thrilled with the ruling. Sgt. Christopher Hawkins, legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police said, “We’re in a frustrating situation. It’s almost like the courts are saying that we can arrest if we find marijuana on you, but it’s different if we find marijuana in you.”

Since the court effectively threw out the use of drug metabolites as evidence, those who are still convinced that potheads on the road are a serious menace (and a potential revenue source) are pursuing legislative remedies. Former Eaton County sheriff and current member of the Michigan House of Representatives, Rick Jones has introduced legislation to permit and encourage the use of roadside drug testing to test for six commonly used illegal substances.

Jones was a staunch opponent of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and it appears that his opposition to all marijuana use is part of Jones’ motivation. Jones also says that the bill would save money by reducing the amount of work needed to be done by the heavily backlogged state police crime lab.

The use of roadside testing would increase the likelihood of finding the actual substances before they are metabolized since the initial test would be administered immediately after the person was pulled over, not later in the police station or hospital after waiting for search warrants. The roadside test kit would take saliva samples that are tested with a portable analyzer at the scene. Assuming the driver fails the test, the proposed law stipulates that a second screening test will be done at a lab. If that gives a positive result, a confirmation test will be done using a more precise immunoassay method.

“I know this has been a problem for law enforcement for years,” Jones said. “What do you do when you’ve got a guy you know is on drugs but you can’t test him?” Perhaps that’s the difference between real science and police science. In real science, you perform the tests and then make your conclusions. In police science, you make up your mind first about who is guilty and then use a “scientific” test that will back you up. If the scientific test can measure trillionths of a gram, you can lock just about everybody up.

In case you don’t know, by the way, really good marijuana costs about $600 an ounce retail. That’s about $21 per gram. A trillionth of a gram of very expensive pot would be worth just 2.14e-11th dollars. It’s been a while since Mr. Parnes’ AP algebra-trig class but I’m pretty sure that’s not very much money.

A lot of heartache for an infinitesimally small amount of virtually nothing that isn’t harming anybody anyway.

If the legislation passes Michigan would be the first state in the US to implement roadside drug testing, which is apparently already done in Australia and Europe, though I’m not sure what technology they use.

There is currently only one roadside drug tester currently on the market, made by Phillips and designed specifically for law enforcement use. As a technology freak I have to say that it’s a cool technique. Magnetic nanoparticles are coated with ligands designed to bind to the tested-for chemicals. Magnetic and optical readings can then be taken from the magnetic particles to extrapolate the chemical levels. It seems to be far more reliable and accurate than Breathalyzer machines. What’s troubling about the technology is that Phillips initially developed it for its promise as a medical diagnostic tool not a cop toy. When Phillips introduced the technology they described it as

A new biosensor platform developed by Philips that uses magnetic nanoparticles to measure target molecules could bring complex in-vitro diagnostic tests out of the laboratory and into decentralized settings, including the patient’s bedside and at home. The speed, ease of use, robustness and accuracy of this new technology could address the requirements of critical care environments by potentially speeding up the diagnosis of life-threatening diseases. In addition, it could be suitable for monitoring chronically ill patients at home.

See any words like police, law enforcement, illegal drugs? Me neither. It talks about bedside diagnostic tests, not roadside drug tests. Though touted as a medical tool, the first commercial device based on the technology is going to be used to put people in jail easier, not get them out of the hospital faster.

I’m not sure exactly what that says. Phillips is obviously making a business decision. Though medical devices can be a very profitable business, it appears that law enforcement and revenue enhancing devices may be even more profitable. DUI and DUID fines are just about the highest traffic fines levied. Every business has its “whales”, customers with whom it is very profitable to do business. DUIs and DUIDs are the whales of the traffic ticket biz. Cops and prosecutors (and all the other public employees that are leeches on the system) love drunks and druggies because they can usually tag them with a whole creel of tickets, court costs and driver responsibility “fees”. In Michigan, first offense DUI rings you up for $100-$500. Kaching. Lansing tacks on two years of driver responsibility fees at $1000/yr. Kaching, kaching. The fines rise with each subsequent offense. Kaching, kaching, kaching.

There’s a moral implication here. It would be one thing if a technology was diverted from medicine to preventing bioterror attacks. I’d say that, yes, that was a morally defensible trade off, just as making penicillin available to Allied troops in WWII before it was available to the general public was a morally defensible trade off. However, though they like to call it a war on drugs, it’s not a real war. The technology was developed to drastically shorten the time needed for blood tests in hospital settings. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that waiting for blood work results has likely killed more people in hospitals than drugged drivers have on the roads.

Besides the moral implications of first using a promising medical technology for law enforcement purposes before developing practical medical applications, the Phillips device will put at legal risk people who don’t use illegal drugs, but do use prescription drugs legally and responsibly. Remember, the legal standard is “any amount” when it comes to drugs, not like with alcohol, where there has to be evidence of impairment or a statutory blood alcohol level. In addition to testing for illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, cannabis, amphetamine, and methamphetamine the Phillips roadside drug tester also yields a positive result for a variety of legally prescribed drugs, like benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs, amphetamines prescribed for ADHD, and of course it cannot distinguish between medical marijuana and plain old pot. By the time an immunoassay test is done to see what’s really what, you’ve already probably spent the night in jail having really broken the law or not.

Let’s be real. This is not about impaired driving, it’s about keeping marijuana criminalized one way or another. Pot is about the only illegal drug you can get away with using and not being seriously impaired in your driving (cocaine, maybe). Heroin junkies and meth freaks are going to show admissible evidence of impairment if they’re high, slurred speech, swerving out of lanes, etc. Potheads don’t make it easy for cops. What Rep. Jones means when he says “when you’ve got a guy you know is on drugs” what that means, translated from copspeak is “the guy looks like he’s high but since he’s only high on pot, he hasn’t really done anything that constitutes admissible evidence of impairment.” Potheads pass roadside sobriety tests with flying colors. I know I have.

The only reason Rep. Jones thinks this is a problem is that because he was a cop, his friends who are regular marijuana smokers weren’t likely to share that fact with him. The only cops who know that their friends get high are the cops that are potheads themselves. A lot of confiscated weed never makes it to the evidence room. If Jones knew how many people regularly and safely drive under the influence of marijuana, he might have a different opinion. Maybe, but not likely, remember he thinks like a cop, and some cops just don’t seem to think the way normal folks do.

Let’s take a survey. How many of you know someone who likes to smoke marijuana? Now how many of them do you think never puff before or during a drive? Based on my personal experience, the people that I know, and the people that I’ve met at dealers’ houses, if someone smokes pot regularly, they also regularly drive stoned. Since there are tens of millions of Americans who light up regularly, that means that the guy in the lane next to you, might be really grooving on the jamband channel on XM. Ain’t no bout a doubt it. I don’t know any regular pot smokers who don’t smoke and drive. I’ve shared a joint at 125 mph in a Lotus Europa and with guys about to go do a ton and a half on their Hayabusas. Baruth’s already told us about roaches he’s found in press cars. Everyone got home safely just fine. A friend once described his routine when driving long distances on the Interstate: light a joint, pop in a cassette. Flip the cassette, light up another joint. When cassette’s done you’re 100 miles down the road and you iterate. Lather, rinse, repeat. Diamonds on my windshield. Roll right through the night.

Since you now know that your friends who smoke dope indeed smoke and drive, do they appear to be any more “impaired” than any other driver? Are they erratic or unsafe drivers? Sure, they might space out and miss an exit now and then, but they aren’t impaired in the sense that a drunk is. They’re buzzed, but not a road hazard.

I’ve been smoking pot off and on (mostly on) since it was coming home from Vietnam in grunts’ duffel bags. My old shrink said that while it might degrade my performance doing high level math problems, there’s no way that I could smoke enough marijuana to impair my cognitive abilities. Since pot is not known to affect reflexes the way alcohol or other drugs do, there’s just about nothing about pot that seriously impairs driving – at least for large numbers of dope smokers who drive high.

Yes, it’s not a good idea for novice pot smokers to drive when high. Once, when he was in law school a friend who wasn’t a serious smoker came over and we shared some weed. Munchies and thirst ensued, so a bunch of us piled into my car and I drove around the corner to the Beverage Depot, an old Victorian house converted to a drive through beer store. When we actually started to drive through the house, he just lost it and started to freak. So if you’re not too experienced with pot, don’t fire up a kush bomber and then go for a spin. Frankly, I prefer the purple sativa strains to the skunky kush indica stuff. Sativa gets you high. Indica gets you stoned. If you have any significant experience with either, though, neither will put you into a bridge embankment.

So yeah, I get high behind the wheel. So what? Believe me, as a narcissist, it’s one of my lesser flaws. I’m demonstrably not impaired behind the wheel. I’ve smoked behind the wheel hundreds of times and gotten behind the wheel stoned even more often than that. It’s not case of God protecting drunks and fools. I’m a safe driver.

While not pristine, I have a fairly clean driving record, and I might have gotten two or three tickets for minor speeding in almost four decades of driving. No other moving violations. Even with warnings, I don’t think I’ve been pulled over more than a half dozen times. The most points I ever had on my driver’s license was 4, usually it’s been zero. Behind the wheel I’ve never caused or been in a serious accident and nobody’s ever accused me of driving in a less than safe manner. And yes, I’ve driven stoned with my kids, now grown in the car. My daughter has a clue about my recreational activities and she’s never said, Dad, you can’t drive your granddaughter when you’re stoned. Like I said, I’m a safe driver.

Unlike smoking and driving, when drinking and driving is concerned, I’m a novice. I’m not much of a boozehound so I haven’t really gotten drunk that many times to begin with. Once on a New Years after a day’s long party at my in-laws, my wife was far too drunk to drive and while I had had a few, I was more sober than she was so I took the wheel back to the bed & breakfast. I don’t know if I was over the legal limit or not but I felt impaired. It was not a comfortable experience, a bit nerve wracking and not something that I’d like to do again.

So as far as impaired driving is concerned, I haven’t really driven impaired much in my life, with the possible exception of being tired, and I’ve smoked a lot of dope. I lived in Ann Arbor, dope capital of the midwest, for a decade, invented a bong, and been guest listed and backstage all access passed to shows put on by Marin County musicians. They really do indeed smoke the bomb – someone with the Kimock band handed me a fat roach backstage at the Wetlands, I smoked it in the Holland Tunnel and was buzzed off it all the way through Jersey. I’ve known some independent agricultural commodities brokers who moved weight. Some of you may remember when restaurants brought you your check on a little tray from American Express. They were maybe 8″ by 4″, had a small lip around the edge and were made out of blue plastic. I got one and it made a great rolling tray. Once, as a token of his gratitude for some *fungal fun a friend who was a grower and high level dealer left that tray filled up and piled about 3″ high with Thai weed so potent you could almost get high just smelling the stuff.

Obviously, I’ve been under the influence of marijuana many, many times. If you do something, do it well and as long as I can afford it, I prefer something potent and tasty to some commercial dreck, so there have been times when I was pretty high, radioactively high. There was a weekend with some Thai stick and hash oil that ended with everyone looking like they had a blue aura. So I’ve been high, really high, almost tripping high, but I’ve never been impaired behind the wheel as badly as when I’ve been tired. Sleepy drivers are a real danger because there is almost nothing you can do to stop from falling asleep once that process has started. I used to try to tough it out, but then I realized that getting there 20 minutes sooner isn’t worth a wreck. Now when I start to get sleepy behind the wheel and a caffeinated beverage doesn’t do the trick, I pull over at the next rest stop or service plaza and get some shuteye. Then I roll a joint and head for the on ramp.

*Do not, I repeat, DO NOT mix driving and psychedelics – you are definitely impaired when tripping, though I did once set a record on an arcade video racing game after a few microdots. I don’t know if it was P.J., Kenney or Beard, but one of the NatLamp originals said there were three places where it was a really, really bad idea to trip: at work, behind the wheel, and in front of your parents. Want some hippie nostalgia? Once we took some nice cubensis shrooms (the easiest recreational drug you can make at home) and while we were waiting to get off we decided to drive our split window Microbus to a large park that’s laid out on some natural and man made islands in the Huron River. It was a gorgeous day, just a perfect summer day. As we watched our two year old chasing some ducks by the water’s edge we realized that we were in no condition to drive, so we spent a few hours at the park playing with our kid till we came down enough to drive home safely. Remember, if you must trip, trip responsibly.

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51 Comments on “Ur-Turn: The Truth About Driving While Stoned...”

  • avatar

    You do the entire legitimizing marijuana scene a horrible disservice and just add fuel to the reefer madness fire with poorly written articles like this.

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      I hate to pile on, but I was really missing the Farago-era 800 word limit too.  Concision, please.
      Both drug and traffic penalties should be devoid of monetary fees unless damages can be proven.  It would end all of this shenanigans.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark out West

      Malachi wrote this high, I surmise.  The writing style parallels stoner driving techniques: Slow, wandering, oblivious and long-winded.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I feel the same way about drinking and driving. I’ve been doing it all my life, and I am really, really good at it. Like you, I have driven some of my fastest while drunk, and I was great.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    The universal standard for DUI/DWI should be whether you can stay in the lines. Don’t care about your BAC, how many bong hits you’ve had, how many pills you’ve popped. If a driver is able to stay in the lines then he is exercising enough physical control over the vehicle to drive safely.

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. Staying the lines requires about ~1 second response time. The issue is how quickly they can respond to an unexpected event (requiring ~0.2 seconds RT), and whether they can react reasonably well. Granted, this is not something that is particularly great in sober drivers, but why worsen the situation by driving under the influence of something that severely slows down your reaction time and impairs your judgment. e.g. If a person to your right immediately swerves into your lane — do you brake hard or swerve left to get out of the way? There’s no obvious answer and you better damn well be in good mental shape to decide the right one.

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    Congratulations for a well written, truthful article.
    Some folks don’t want to hear the facts.
    My job has me in a different location daily, sometimes 200 miles from home base.
    I arrive, put in a full day, and look forward to my little smoky treat on the drive home.
    With all the sixties campus commies now in positions of power, I’m amazed the stuff is still illegal. Maybe the judges, drug detectives, DEA, etc. are happy the way it still is?

  • avatar

    Definitely pushing the boundaries of what is in good taste to publish with this one. If this truly is “the truth about cars”, it ought not to be. This guy is really cavalierly defending something quite dangerous. I was in the stoner set back in high school and those guys on the road were terrifying. The one guy I know who smokes and drives now was in the meth industry out West a couple of years ago, and scares the crap out of me.
    With all the proto-pornographic language about his love of drugs, I don’t really see how the author accomplished what I think he set out to do (which I think is to defend private marijuana use as harmless on the road). He comes off more as a drug enthusiast who is proud of his driving-while-high record and his “elite” connections into the drug-using world. I mean who gives a damn about you hanging out with Marin County rock bands and how does that relate to your thesis?

    • 0 avatar

      this article sucks, too personal and long. now that I’ve got a taste of the author’s personality I want to vomit.

    • 0 avatar


      I’d rather share the road with a whole convoy of stoners than you while you talk on the phone, eat burger and fries, scroll thru your ipod, check out the babe in the Jetta or argue with your girlfriend about checking out the babe in the Jetta…

    • 0 avatar

      Editorial judgment needed to be exercised here, no question about it. The writer is guilty of, if nothing else, typing while under the influence. If the entire last 11 paragraphs had been lopped off, this would have kept the focus on the important points raised about the Michigan situation and the Philips device.

    • 0 avatar

      Gottacook. well said.  The story was initially making sense, pointing out the use of technology to again fleece drivers in the name of safety when no safety hazard exists.  But what’s with the ramble-on about driving stoned is fine?  I will admit that I drove stoned in my youth, but after six one hits with my favorite Apogee bong I would be hard pressed to say my driving skills improved.  Certainly the stereo sounded better, but driving?  Sorry, no.

  • avatar

    While reading this article I kept thinking of the Chappelle Show and the wrap it up box skit. Wrap that shit up yo! The article was way too long.
    I was an avid pothead for a long time and never was I a danger on the road. As long as all you are doing is smoking pot, you will be fine. If you are drinking, tripping, doing meth, or even prescription painkillers you should not be driving.

  • avatar

    I tend to agree with Amedment X – the standard for impairment should be, well, impairment. There are lots of ways to measure this, and usually it’s pretty obvious when somebody shouldn’t be on the road.
    While I think the writer is a bit extreme, he’s basically right. I do believe that there is a point at which you had better not get in the car after toking, but in my experience that’s a pretty extreme point, and generally you KNOW. Honestly, all I can hope is that all this sort of BS washes away after California legalizes. I’m hoping the other states will follow and the whole edifice of stupidity will finally crumble. If alcohol, coffee, and tea can be major trade goods, why not cannabis?
    The author is also absolutely right about psychedelics and driving. LSD is a truly wonderful drug (which also would be legal in a just world), but heaven help you if you are dumb enough to think you can operate anything on it – I know of people who have crashed on it. Hang out with a sober friend and let them handle the world.

  • avatar

    I have one driving while high experience, me and my friends went to another friends house and got high. Well it came time to leave at first my friend was driving my car, but he made me so nervous, I made him go into an empty parking lot and me and him switched places. I probably would have done that sober, I hate the idea of somebody else driving my car. Well friend #2 house was closer, so I  took him to his house, but his mom was awake and he was still pretty high looking, so he decided to stay in the car while I drop off friend #1 at his house and then return to his house hopefully sober.  So I drove friend number #1 to his house and dropped him off. Then I started driving back to friend # 2 house. Well, one thing I used for a marker was a shell station close to a right turn. As I was driving I was looking for the shell station and didn’t find it, but somehow I made my turn and got to the street I was supposed. Well, friend #2 says let’s take a short cut and I say OK, well he starts giving me directions and all I did was follow them, in fact after a couple directions I was lost and had no idea where I was, I decide to just keep following friend # 2 directions, since he seems to know where he is going. So I keep doing that and then we got to someplace I recognize and am completely astonished as to how I got there. Shortly there after he got to his house and got out of the car. Then I drove(via highway, 15 miles to the south to another town) to my house and got there safe. All I noticed was that while I was dropping off my friends I was going slower than usual. I was constantly checking my speed and found out I was driving 5-10 under the speed limit, and had to give the car a little more gas. By the time I dropped off the last friend I was pretty sober, so my trip home was pretty normal. the driving started at 11 or 12 at night and ended at 1 or 2 at night. Would I do this again? No. I don’t even like weed. This was around the time I realized me and my friends interest were beginning to go separate ways.

  • avatar

    Interesting, informative, and quite true. I just have to say- $600 an ounce? That’s crazy. It only costs half that for the best stuff, at least in Portland, OR.

  • avatar

    Pop in a cassette ? Sounds like this article was written by someone still stuck in the late 70s . I had my period of getting stoned on a regular basis back in the actual 70s all through the 80s gradually tapering off over the years to the early 90s when I quit . I was never a good focused on the road at all times driver while stoned and avoided getting behind the wheel in that condition whenever I could . In fact I used to drive around back roads in the country that I had been on many times before and totally lose track of where I was until coming upon a familiar landmark . Sorry but impaired is impaired , when I come up behind someone driving 10 mph under the speed limit who suddenly wakes up when they see someone behind them and they realize they’ve let their mind wander to the point of becoming an obstacle to normally flowing traffic -I know it is probably some idiot driving stoned if they’re not blabbing on their cell phone that is . For this person to say every one is exactly the same while stoned driving is the most moronic thing I’ve ever read on this forum ! Want to legalize pot and regulate it like booze with roadside sobriety checks – fine . Want to legalize it and let people do whatever the hell they want stoned and you’ll never ever come anywhere close to legalization ! If they weren’t stoned they might realize that .

  • avatar

    Not only do I disagree with what seems to be a rambling, irresponsible and unfocused piece of writing, but this also sadly seems to indicate a lowering of TTAC editorial standards. Just like MSNBC is enabling Olberman and Fox is encouraging Beck so does TTAC give tacit approval of this item by publishing it. Ed, if TTAC wants to be taken seriously as an automotive news source then stuff like this should not be published.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed.  Maybe I’m just getting to be a boring old fart since turning 44, but I don’t find anything cool, sophisticated, nor intellectual about driving while high.  Mr. Mavis, you may do what you want in the privacy of your own home, but don’t endanger me nor my family while driving on public roads.  I’ve got a daughter to raise through college years before I’m ready to check out, thank you very much. As a professional pilot, the FAA and my employer have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol – as they should, random testing aside.

  • avatar

    I don’t touch the stuff but it’s absurd we throw people in jail for weed,  or even make them appear in court. It’s no worse than alcohol and better for you than cigarettes. Save the law enforcement for the really nasty stuff like meth and heroin.
    People also don’t realize that one of the reasons it was made illegal was because Mexican migrants use it. Yup, the origins of anti-marijuana laws were explicitly racist and had nothing to do with health.

  • avatar

    The first sentence had me confused.
    Jack isn’t an adult yet, is he?  He seems to be having way to much fun.
    And no REAL adult hampered by the weight of life could be scratching whatever damned itch he wanted.
    It seems so unfair!!!!

    Back to article.
    Driving while under the influence always seemed arbitrary.  I know as a society we need to set some standard of measurement, but it always is dumbing down to the lowest skill level.
    For instance, when my brothers were starting a company in the mid seventies we needed money.
    We were broke and bills kept coming in.
    I volunteered to take drinking and drug testing and got paid, and fed, well.
    But I performed off the scale. Others couldn’t follow or see the dancing red light no matter how sober or stoned they were.
    And some of these test were difficult and some eas(ier).

    I suppose the fun years in college trained me well, perhaps I was gifted sight and balance wise.
    But I think some of these idiots couldn’t drink a Coke and eat a Big Mac without killing somebody.

    Now Ray TheHood is crying out that we should ban ALL in car systems like Sync and navigation.

    WHERE will it stop?

    I think it more important we ban stupid people from having kids first.
    That’s my solution.

  • avatar

    No need to get too excited or angry about this. Studies have shown that people can drive decently while stoned.
    When I had a daily commute from Manhattan to Long Island every day. Coming home from work I would take 1 or 2 hits of weed for the drive on the LIE (if you’ve ever driven it you know how crazy it is). The reason is because I would drive much safer. I wouldn’t be as aggressive, or get frustrated by other drivers. Believe it or not I actually used it to make me a safer driver. In case you’re wondering I have been driving for over 25 years, in NYC daily for 10 of them and never once was in an accident when I was behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    To follow up, I must state concurrence with many of the comments here that this article is in borderline bad taste.

    “I’ve shared a joint at 125 mph in a Lotus Europa and with guys about to go do a ton and a half on their Hayabusas.”

    I mean, seriously? Exercise some restraint, man. It’s one thing to admit you have smoked and driven in the past (which I ambivalent towards) but in this manner you seem to be boasting. And please note this is criticism coming from a proponent of marijuana legalization.

    Editorial oversight would have been appropriate.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I don’t disagree. And in case anyone is wondering, even though I’m posting today, I didn’t put this one up.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a lot of bragging about doing things most of us adults gave up years ago . I consider myself extremely lucky to get through my young and dumb years – looks like the author is still living them though . But articles like this one or the sex and cars stuff don’t bother me – looking forward to an article by some bank robbery get away driver !  I assume that’s what is coming next ?

  • avatar

    You think that’s crazy? Let’s suppose someone reports that you are a parent who smokes marijuana. Not that you are abusive or neglectful, simply that you smoke. The Dept. of Children and Families can and will show up at your door unannounced and require you submit to a drug test. It won’t matter that your children are well fed, happy, healthy, and straight A students. It won’t matter that there is absolutely nothing to support the claim. They don’t have to prove you are guilty, instead you must prove you innocence by passing a drug test.

    Getting ripped and getting behind the wheel of a plane, train, or automobile is  not a good idea- but the wholesale demonization of marijuana is getting ridiculous. I find it ironic that one the most natural and innocuous of all drugs seems to be the most criminalized. And why? Because of it’s longevity in the body? Because there is easy money to be made busting users?

    The War on Drugs is perpetual and outrageously expensive. I oppose it. Driving under the influence is criminal, and should remain so. Arresting someone who smoked a joint three years, weeks, or days ago is absurd. Anyone who supports that kind of crap is dumber than the biggest pothead on the planet.

  • avatar
    Richard B

    I don’t like driving while high because of the missed exit problem. Especially in a congested big city you’re not familiar with it can be harrowing. But that’s why marijuana is not a serious impairment. The extra caution prevents you from pushing your luck, the exact opposite of alcohol. The worst thing about being high is trying to pretend that you’re not high.

  • avatar
    George B

    I agree that the article could use lots of editing.  Started out with a relevant point about aggressive enforcement of a poorly written law and devolved into a long rant about marijuana.
    I read somewhere that a mass transit organization made subway operators pass a reaction time test before each shift.  Didn’t care if reaction time was slow due to illegal drugs, legal alcohol, prescription drugs, illness, or lack of sleep.  Fail the test and you can’t work that day.  Maybe we need a traffic law and a test that focuses on impairment instead of drugs.
    Flogging deceased equus caballus, but if traffic fines went to charity instead of government, maybe police would focus on public safety instead of revenue generation. No objective reason punishment and revenue need to be conflated.

  • avatar

    Excellent article.  Thanks to the author for having the courage to say some things that have badly needed to be said for a long time, and to ttac for running it.

    This sort of hysteria is why I have refused to visit the US since the war on drugs started.  I haven’t smoked in years, and would not drive while stoned.

    As a frequent cyclist, I would estimate that between one in twenty and one in fifty cars in the city where I live, has marijuana fumes coming out of it.  Given this level of use, I think it’s possible that stoned drivers have a lower accident rate than straight drivers. Have there been any objective studies of accident rates?

    Over the years I have also had a number of adversarial confrontations with motorists who seriously endangered me as a cyclist.  Not one of those people ever smelled of marijuana.  

    If indeed stoned drivers are safe drivers, then obviously it’s ridiculous to target them.  Compared to drunk, drowsy or distracted drivers, the supposed hazard of stoned drivers is idiocy.  As the author said, it’s all about the foolish war on drugs.

  • avatar

    In 1987 a freight train collided with a passenger train at Chase, Md., killing 16 people aboard the passenger train.  The cause of the collision was the freight train failing to stop at a red signal; the cause of the freight failing to stop was that its crew was stoned.
    Not on my railroad, bub, and not on my highways either.  Grow up or get the hell off the road.

  • avatar

    According to Wikipedia, the crew of the offending train tested positive for marijuana, but the intensity is not specified.  Probably there was no such test then.  The article says the crew admitted smoking up.  Plea bargaining can change testimony.  I remain very skeptical of any such stories emerging from the hysteria around this subject.
    The engineer at fault had a history of DUI convictions.  Not to excuse the possible role of marijuana in this tragedy, but perhaps if DUI were taken more seriously, this person with bad judgment would not have been operating a train. Associated regulations were tightened up after the crash.

    It may be a fine distinction, but to be “scientific”, there is no proof that the accident would not have happened had the crew not been smoking.  Safety systems in their locomotive had been disabled prior to their run.  But I’d easily agree I’d rather not have my plane pilot, train engineer or bus driver in an altered state.

  • avatar

    As a resident of Michigan, I was not aware of the finer points of the DUID laws. Not that I would personally have to be concerned about it much, but I’m horrified to think that these laws are so poorly written. I have a few issues with arthritic pain, and wold hate to think that I could be detained for taking my prescription. Lovely.
    I would agree with others that impairment should be the standard for arrest, not presence in the bloodstream. Although, even with alcohol, the standard is less than ideal. We have a blood alcohol level of .008 % in Michigan, a person with my weight 260 lbs (130 kg) could handle a lot more alcohol than a 110 lb (50kg) person could and still not be impaired. I’m not arguing for driving while impaired, just noting the differences and that the standard may need to be adjusted.
    I’m OK with legalizing marijuana, and treating it like other goods. Alcohol and nicotine are far worse for the human body, and we still allow them to be sold. But I’m not OK with impaired driving,whether from booze, in-car distractions or over-inflated egos.
    I’ve made it my mission to be as close to 100% every time I get in the car. I am supposed be in control of my vehicle when driving, the law requires it.

    • 0 avatar

      BAC is not independent of weight and gender.

    • 0 avatar

      That should be .08, not .008, one drink puts most people over .008.
      BAC is absolutely independent of weight and gender, it’s the amount of alcohol required to reach a certain level that isn’t.
      A 300 lbs muscular man may require 10 drinks to reach a certain BAC, while a 115 lbs trim woman may require only 5, but at the same BAC both will have their reaction times fairly equally altered.  That’s why the statutes focus on the BAC level, not the number of drinks consumed (plus, it’s a lot easier to prove a percentage of alcohol in the blood than it is to track down and verify exactly how much alcohol someone may have consumed).

    • 0 avatar

      @Nullo, thanks for checking my math. There’s a reason why I’m an artist and not an engineer. Probably a good thing. However, I’m still implying that .08 is an arbitrary number, and that it does not necessarily imply the same level of impairment in every person. IIRC, before the State of Michigan changed the number to .08 from .10, there hasn’t been a significant increase in DUI arrests. What did this really accomplish? Are the streets really safer or is this revenue enhancement? I don’t know for sure, I’m just wondering aloud.

  • avatar

    The article started with a good point about testing for long-ago marijuana use, but ended up as a rambling novella.
    Yes, marijuana use does impair driving.  Not as much as drinking, yes, but still some.  Not seeing your exit is a minor problem.  Not seeing the pedestrian crossing a dark intersection is a major problem.
    No, everyone who uses marijuana does not drive while stoned.

  • avatar

    When I am driving with friends, family or even strangers I would like to think that everybody had the full faculties to control 1000kgs or more of plastic and metal. we have seen what mistakes people can do without  any induced ability impairments and this person says it’s ok. Maybe he should look at the current Australian ads that comdemn drug/drink driving. The catch line is, would youy like your next operation to be carried out by  a stoned surgeon, or your next flight into the blue yonder be piloted by two stoned pilots? Utter rubish is what that article was. It did start out as a acceptable rant against “police science and evidence to proper scientific, enforcable evidence” to a self righteous rant to do as I please and to hell with the rest of you!. To put in the aussie vernacular “I’m alright jack, bugger the rest of you!”

  • avatar


    (1) Using a video of a single-vehicle accident to support your position seems kind of silly
    (2) Tripping on shrooms while driving your kid around seems kind of dangerous
    (3) What were you talking about again?

  • avatar

    What started out as an interesting take on the misuse of a medical device to convict unimpaired drivers devolves into a defense of a personal lifestyle that in no way applies to everyone.
    Maybe you can fly a helicopter and pen notes in a book you’re reading while high, but your assertion that “everyman” under the influence of marijuana is a safe driver is a bit much. I’ve smoked in the past, and have driven while high, but I never felt that it was a natural or acceptable scenario. And yes, the fact that I wasn’t a regular smoker had much to do with my comfort level behind the wheel (paranoia ruled), but a hard-core pot smoker who has developed an immunity to the drug shouldn’t advocate that it’s OK for less “devoted” smokers to toke and drive.

  • avatar

    Said it here before, and, again. Until I gave up totally on the cannabis over 20 years ago, I logged tens of thousands of miles driving and indulging in cannabis behind the wheel. No problem.
    Does it cause impairment to operate machinery? In my experience ? Nope.  I also never went skiing without cannabis in those days either. No  problems whatsoever skiing what are called moguls or bumps. Bumps require many continuous split second sensory and motor adjustments as well a mental planning and foresight. A half second of inattention in the  bumps and a skier will be thrown flat on his back. My performance in bumps never suffered after a smoke break in the trees.
    There are some commenters here who are revealing hard core, mind made up, and intolerant mentalities. May I respectfully point out that an open mind is relaxed, untroubled, accepting ,and discovering truths, whereas a closed mind is busy putting up walls and defenses, often to defend and perpetuate untruths and ignorance that are held dear?

  • avatar

    Interesting to say the least but I will have to agree with many here that this was NOT all that well written from a coherent POV, but otherwise it was not badly written, especially through the early part where he talks about using medical devices as an easy way to drum of cash revenue for police by enacting poorly written laws over certain types of drugs (mostly illegal substances).
    That being said, I DO have a problem with poorly written draconian laws that lump some more minor, benign (relative) drugs in with the more potent stuff like Angel Dust, Cocaine, Meth, the list goes on and made  it so that even minute trace amounts left even if you’ve not been toking yourself, but merely in the presence of others that have been and BAM! in jail. I DO have to admit, I had some initial concerns of the police now having to determine if you are taking legitimate drugs or not, ie, blood pressure meds, anti depressants and the like where SOME of them might have similar affects as a barbiturate etc to me just muddies the waters and makes it all a bad idea overall since they are NOT trained to do such things – in the name of revenue, um, no, not a good reason in my book. I know it’s more a political/ideological thing by some but still.
    I do dislike it when the police etc can enact laws like this, and can get away with merely using the excuse, for cash revenue without any evidence to support it in any way at all. I would not be too surprised if the courts continue to look into this and eventually ALL of these types of laws eventually get tossed out, especially when as has been said, California legalizes pot because then the barometer for justification for these types of legislation suddenly becomes even harder.
    But the writer DID loose me in his further writing when he began rambling on about his toking of weed and all that and the story about the tape deck, was probably referencing the days when cassettes still ruled and that would be up until about 10 years ago before CD players became standard in virtually all cars and even then, the mere mention of flipping the tape via ejecting etc, dates him to the late 70’s, early 80’s before auto-reverse decks became common in the car, even as factory decks around the mid 80’s.
    So in summation, this was one post that I’d have either not have chosen, or simply have edited it for brevity, not due to the subject, but due to it’s rambly mess.

  • avatar

    I’m a medical student, and I’d just like to point out that from a physiological/medical point of view there’s a load of inaccuracies, factual errors, and misunderstandings present in this article. I don’t have the time to comb through it all and comment on each one, but I’d just like to raise a few broad points.
    First, I don’t feel as though those driving while using legally prescribed prescription stimulants like methylphenidate, amphetamine, etc for ADHD should be put in the same category as those driving while abusing depressants, opiates, psychedelics, etc. In those properly diagnosed with ADHD, prescription stimulants markedly improve focus while driving and have been demonstrated to reduce accident rates in that population.
    Second, I think the definition of “driving while impaired” should probably be expanded to cover things like severe sleep deprivation, very old age with debilitated reflexes, severe undiagnosed vision disorders, etc. Several studies have indicated that people driving after being awake for 24+ hours have reduced reaction times, etc similar to those driving with a .08 BAC. And I always remember a story my wife told me about how a 90-year-old woman in her neighborhood was still driving even though her vision was so poor that she couldn’t read street signs or even visually identify stop signs. How was she still getting around? She’d apparently memorized the location of all the stop signs in her neighborhood!
    Third, while I agree that the ultimate test of one’s fitness to drive is driving performance, there are a few factors that complicate that line of reasoning. On one hand, there have been many patients who are taking pretty solid doses of opiate pain medication, benzodiazepine anxiolytics, etc. that gain a tolerance to the effects of those drugs and manage to drive safely with no accidents or other blemishes on their driving record. However, the medical profession itself even acknowledges that drugs such as opiates severely disrupt judgment and decision-making; for instance, in many states it is flat-out illegal for medical personnel to work with detectable levels of controlled substances in their blood even if said drugs were legally prescribed. In the case of driving, it may be the case that someone using opiates, benzos, pot, etc. would be quite competent until a situation arose requiring fast reflexes, quick decision making, and so on.

  • avatar

    As a historical reference, though digital compact discs have been available since 1984 or so, CDRs were much slower to arrive. Live music traders used cassettes well into the 1990s and kept at least a couple of Nakamichi repair shops open. Remember, the first <$1,000 CDR recorder didn’t arrive till 1995. Tape traders didn’t really start switching to CDRs until cheaper write capable personal computer drives proliferated later in the decade. Today, when music comes in digital, not physical form, all this sounds quaint, but TDK and Maxell sold lots of cassettes well into the 1990s. My WM6DC Sony “Pro” Walkman portable recorder can still make a decent live recording, particularly with Sony UX cassettes. Car audio system manufacturers offered cassette players or combo cd/cassette head units for a long time as well.
    The reference to cassettes may not have been completely anachronistic.  People still listen to cassettes and vinyl records. My home stereo, after all, still has a vinyl LP player (along with a 50 year old Fisher FM-100S tuner that has tubes and works better than any modern tuners I’ve tried). The cd/dvd player is still the most frequent source, but there’s stuff I have on vinyl that I don’t have on cd so I still use my turntable from time to time. I also have about 400 hrs of live music on cassette so now and then I’ll pop one in the Nak.

    • 0 avatar

      Since you mentioned Nakamichi in this thread about the abilities of those while stoned…my friend once set the test-tone generator on his Nakamichi Dragon (I believe to be 15KHz) and we listened to that tone while sober.  Turned the amp off and did a round of bong hits.  Turned the amp back on and that tone was now drilling through our heads!!  Getting stoned most certainly enhanced listening to music.  It was one of the reasons I became an audiophile.  A quality three head Nak deck could make copies of records (and CDs) that were virtually indistinguishable from the source material.  Regarding vinyl:  I had the pleasure of listening to a killer system consisting of Mark Levinson amps, Spectral CD player, Pink Triangle (I think) turnable…forget who made the speakers.  Anyway, the typical person who purchased mass-market equipment would be perplexed – no sea of knobs and controls; in fact a minimum of them to dirty the signal.  We pitted a $75 record of Ricky Lee Jones on that turntable to a equally high quality CD on the Spectral CD player.  He matched the volume levels from both sources and we did blind listening tests.  Easy result:  The turntable ate the $6000 CD player’s lunch.  It wasn’t even a contest.

  • avatar

    Wow, other than the fact that I’m highly disappointed about the length and English in this post, i must say that the subject, and the way it was handled is utter disaster.
    first to clear things; i have driven high, and Drunk, and the only reason i survived the latter was because i was Effing Lucky….as for the former, although i agree that it can be done safely to a good extent, you cannot go saying that it’s ultimately safe. When you are high and your cruising, you think you are going fast, but indeed you are going slow, and that is completely opposite to when you are drunk. yes you can get away with it, but do it for a long enough time in a representative environment (not at 2 am when the roads are empty) and it is a guarantee that you will get in trouble. possibly not with the law, but most definitely with a curb, a mailbox, another parked car. and being high you would be made to think that you are handling the situation… just like a drunk keeps repeating he’s sober… we’ve all see that… it’s the drug and boozes power to make us reject our current state.
    Getting back to the post…driving under any influence other than that of Music on the radio (even that can be dangerous) and wind blowing from the window is a crock of bowel movement… only when the shit happens that will you notice that what you were doing is wrong.
    but in another note, far from justifying DUI, the amount of people driving sober and involved in accidents is far higher than those high, so statistically there are more sober people crashing then they are high people crashing. so if everybody gets high, (slim) chances are that the total people crashing might get less…think about it…

  • avatar

    Worth mentioning that the banner ad at the bottom of this “driving while stoned” post is for an drug treatment center.

  • avatar

    If the author would like to drive stoned – let’s modify his VW splitty so that the driver’s seat is in front of the bumper and the steering wheel has a spike coming out of the center. (and yeah i own an old VW camper van, I like them)
    I have no problem with legalizing marijuana but PLEASE stay home when you partake until the effects pass or at least have a sober driver taxi you around. I’d like to raise my family to be healthy, intact and happy.
    I’ve worked a few DUI fatalities as military police. One had a sober father of two splattered all over the highway. The idiot drunk wasn’t even hurt. Had it been up to me I’d like to have seen him just shot on the spot for the murder of that father.
    I have no problem with mellow toking folks. Not one the road. Stay put.

  • avatar

    I don’t care what form of negligence contributes to a person’s inability to drive properly.  All should be punished equally based on the results and not possible outcomes.  Both of the idiot drivers who have run into me were not high or drunk.  I’d rather share the road with any of my pot-smoking friends than those clowns.

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