With a government shutdown looming this week and the subsequent uncertainty that brings for medical marijuana protections, all eyes and ears have been on Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions as he continues to tip-toe around how this administration’s approach to marijuana legislation will unfold.
ABC released a video in December of Sessions holding an informational session with interns from the Department of Justice. The Q&A was held privately in June but ABC was able to obtain the footage through a Freedom of Information Act request. During the session, an intern asked the AG about cannabis legalization, at which point Sessions tried to incite reefer madness-era fear by implying that marijuana could be causing more harm than alcohol in America.
“Look, there’s this view that marijuana is harmless and it does no damage,” said Sessions. “I believe last year was the first year that automobile accidents that occurred were found to have been caused more by drugs than by alcohol. Marijuana is not a healthy substance, in my opinion.”
But Sessions misread the report he cited in his answer.
Dept. of Justice spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam referenced a Washington Post report on a study using data from 2015 when asked by FactCheck.org to explain Sessions’ claims.
The study does not offer evidence of marijuana being present in more fatal car accident victims than alcohol, but rather the opposite. The leap Sessions makes that drugs cause more accidents than alcohol based on this study is misguided, as the study — and plenty of other research — shows that deciphering a person’s level of intoxication from cannabis is much more difficult than with alcohol. Because marijuana can stay in a person’s system for weeks or longer, a simple positive test wouldn’t necessarily indicate intoxication at the time of the accident. In some cases, this would be like getting a DUI for drinking a few beers three weeks before the incident took place — unfathomable.
The statistics Sessions may have misinterpreted to believe that drugs led to more fatal automobile crashes were flawed to begin with.
According to the study, which was funded by eight large alcohol conglomerates, drugs were present in the systems of 41.7 percent of the fatalities tested compared to 37.3 percent of those tested for alcohol. While this figure may be alarming if all things were equal, far fewer people in the study were tested for drugs. Of the fatally injured drivers in the study, 70.9 percent were tested for alcohol, compared to 57 percent for drugs. Because of the uneven testing samples, the overall number of fatal accident victims with alcohol in their system (26.4%) is actually higher than those who tested positive for drugs (23.8%).
Furthermore, Sessions citing this study to warrant marijuana prohibition is questionable for the simple fact that the report categorizes all “drugs” together, so using the already-murky numbers to bash marijuana legalization is not only a reach, it’s propaganda.
Upon further investigation of the testing numbers, the study reveals that 7.1 percent of the car accident fatalities produced a positive test for cannabis specifically — a third of the number that came back positive for alcohol.
There has long been a need for expanded research into far superior methods of detecting marijuana intoxication, as the Breathalyzer is useless in proving inebriation in the case of most drugs in the same way it does for alcohol, which moves through the system much faster than cannabis or prescription pain medications.
For this reason, experts will typically say that marijuana may be “associated” with an accident rather than claiming that the driver’s use of the plant “caused” an incident. Sessions went as far as to say “caused,” which is inaccurate.
Not only does marijuana show up in far fewer accident fatalities than alcohol, but a separate studysuggests that states with medical marijuana laws on the books see a reduction in traffic deaths overall. While it is imperative to remember that cannabis intoxication — especially from products with THC — “significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time,” the 19 states that passed medical legislation saw an 8-11 percent reduction in traffic deaths the year immediately after prohibition ended.
This article was originally published on Marijuana.com.
About Duke London: Used to write about music for XXL, Elevator, Complex, Genius, and a few other outlets. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you’d like to read way fewer words by me.