08/03/14 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Doug McVay reports: This week: the House government reform subcommittee holds a hearing on drugged driving.

Audio file


Century of Lies August 3, 2014


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Century Of Lies can be heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am. We can also be heard on time4hemp dot com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage.

Let's get to the news.

The 113th Congress has been one of the best for drug policy reform in many years. We've had several hearings on both the House and senate side in which prohibitionist policies have been questioned and administration officials responsible for those policies have been - possibly for the first time in their careers - forced to justify themselves and their positions.

That leads me to this week's hearing before the Subcommittee on Government Operations of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Congressman John Mica, Republican of Florida, is the chair. His subcommittee has held a number of hearings in federal marijuana policy and marijuana generally over the past several months. Their hearing on Thursday July 31st was a little different. The hearing was titled “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned.” A full video of the hearing is available from the committee website and directly through their YouTube account, it's well worth taking the time to give it a listen. Following is a segment from that hearing these are opening statements by the members who attended: Congressman Mica, followed by Congressman Gerry Connelly, Democrat of Virginia, and Congressman John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana.


JOHN MICA: I have an important responsibility to look at changing laws. This subcommittee has, in fact, been investigating federal response to state and local government legalization and change of laws relating to marijuana and examining the administration’s sometimes chaotic and inconsistent policies on marijuana. In fact most of the proceedings since the beginning of the year have been based on a statement that the president made. He said that marijuana was not much different than alcohol. One of our first hearings was to bring in the Office of National Drug Control Policy who differed with the president’s statement. We looked at that issue.

Then we heard from the law enforcement agencies – DEA, they disagreed with that statement. Then we saw the conflict in Colorado and other states. The Department of Justice had issued some guidelines and statements relating to enforcement. We heard, as I recall, from the US attorney from Colorado who testified about some of the problems. We heard from DEA and other agencies.

As we were doing one of the hearings the District of Columbia changed its law on possession tampering down the fine to $25 for one ounce of marijuana. I illustrated by holding up a fake joint. Some people thought that was entertaining but it was also to illustrate that 28 of those joints would be the results – a $25 fine. I held up in the other hand a list of 26 federal agencies that were charged with enforcing conflicting federal law. It does create a serious dilemma in situation.

I think today is very important. Having chaired Transportation you see the results of the devastation, for example, on our highways. Probably in the last dozen years we’ve had one-quarter of one million Americans slaughtered on the highways. Think about that – over one-quarter of one million.

We’ve gotten it down...it was down in the 30-some thousand but it was running in the mid- almost 40 thousand and that is fatalities. Half of those fatalities are related to people who are impaired through alcohol or drugs. As we embark on this new era with many more people exposed to what is now still a Schedule I narcotic and more potent as we heard from some of the scientific folks we are going to have a lot more people stoned on the highway and there will be consequences.

We do have federal agencies and we’ll hear from the Federal Department of Transportation to see how they are going to deal with both passenger and commercial vehicles. I don’t know if we can put up some of those charts to see some of the devastation or the photos. Aviation is another area – maybe you could put some of those up there.

These are - we haven’t gotten into commercial and we’ll talk about that – just keep flipping them. Every one of these were involved with people impaired. The way we find out right now if they were impaired is by testing the blood of the corpse. This is some of the results we see. The worst train incident that we’ve had in recent memory is the Metrolink - 25 people killed. The engineer was impaired with marijuana.

Automobiles, again, there are thousands of accidents that involve some just marijuana and some a deadly combination of marijuana and other drugs taking lives so there are consequences to what’s being done in our society.

Today I want to also focus on the aspect of not only the number of crash victims but also those who are the most vulnerable in this whole process. Right now from 1999 to 2010 the number of crash victims with marijuana in their system has jumped from 4% to over 12%. That’s actually as some of this has been kicking in.

Furthermore the influence of both alcohol and marijuana they say is now 24 times more likely to cause an accident than a sober person. I could cite some of these studies. 21% of seriously injured drivers tested positive for marijuana.

One of my major concerns is the impact on the most vulnerable in our society and the trend is most troubling for our young drivers. Most recently one in 8 school seniors admitted driving after smoking marijuana and nearly 28% of the high school seniors admit to getting into the car with a driver who had recently used marijuana or other illicit drugs. At night 16% of the drivers under age 21 tested positive for drugs whereas only 7% of the same drivers tested positive for alcohol.

As drugged driving fatalities have tripled a study has found nearly half of the drivers fatally injured in car accidents are under the age of 25. That slaughter I talked about on the highways is impacting no other group as much as our young people and particularly those under age 25. As much as 14% of fatal or sustained injury drivers tested positive for THC in 2012.

We don’t have to have data to understand the full scope of the problem. Data collection policies are set up by states and generally testing only occurs with drivers with fatalities. Drivers who have used marijuana do not exhibit the same intoxication effects as drivers who have used alcohol and traditional field testing is not always effective to identify and remove intoxicated drivers from the road.

We have no standard test for marijuana for drivers. We don’t have federal standards of limits of THC since at the federal level any level of THC is illegal since it is a Schedule I narcotic and supposedly zero tolerance but we have no way of testing that.

Currently there is no roadside Breathalyzer for marijuana but technology is advancing and some countries have started to use a roadside oral test. This is one of those testing machines and it is used in Europe. As I understand it takes a swab. I was going to swab the panelist but I thought I wouldn’t do that today.

You can take a swab with this and it can tell you if anyone has used marijuana within 4 hours but we have no standard. We have no acceptable test. We have no way of telling if people are impaired. Most of the data that we are getting right now is from fatalities. You have to either take an individual to a hospital for a blood or urine test or, in the worst situation, to the morgue where we test their blood.

In the past 10 years marijuana was a factor in nearly 58 aviation accidents. I shared some of the civil aviation. We haven’t even begun to think of what can happen in the commercial market as more people are exposed to marijuana. We now have 23 states with medical use and 2 states who have knocked down most of the barriers and more people will have more exposure to use of marijuana and very little means of testing them.

The National Transportation Safety Board has investigated different accidents and found, again, THC in a number of these accidents but, again, all of their testing is done after the fact and usually where a fatality is involved.

The witnesses today will tell us if anything what the federal government is doing to combat drug-impaired operation of any transportation mode and, again, we have a whole host of modes that the federal government takes responsibility – over vehicular, simple passenger cars, commercial vehicles, cargo, rail (both passenger and cargo) and civil and commercial aviation.

We’ll hear from Christopher Hart from the National Transportation Safety Board, Jeff Michael from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Patrice Kelly from the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance and Mr. Ronald Flegel of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

I look forward to today’s can continuing discussions on this issue which has a great impact on all of us and yield now for the ranking member, Mr. Connelly.

GERRY CONNELLY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding today’s hearing to examine the effects of marijuana on the ability to operate planes, trains and automobiles. I am going to particularly focus in on the automobile but not to the exclusion of everything else.

This hearing addresses an aspect of marijuana policy where I believe there is general agreement over the desired outcome reducing the incidents of accidents resulting from driving while under the influence of any drugs.

Across the political spectrum there is widespread opposition to allowing driving under the influence of any drug that impairs an individual’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Where differences emerge over the most effective policy to achieve this widely shared outcome which I think we can all agree remains a national challenge.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health approximately 10.3 million people have admitted to driving while under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2010 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes accounting for 31% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.

These statistics are alarming and unacceptable. Our nation must continue reducing the incidence of any impaired driving deaths. A key component in this long-standing effort will be improving our knowledge base through better data and research.

With respect to today’s hearing there has been very limited research conducted by the federal government addressing the relationship between marijuana usage and driving safety. Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conclude that THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) has dose-related impairment effects on driving performance.

For example, as previously reported, “The impairment manifests itself mainly in the ability to maintain the allowable position on the road but its magnitude is not exceptional in comparison with changes produced by many medicinal drugs and alcohol.”

They also found marijuana intoxication is short-lived. Peek, acute effects following cannabis inhalation are typically achieved within 10 to 30 minutes with the effects dissipating quickly after about one hour.

“According to NHTSA drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence THC adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”

Meanwhile the National Transportation Safety Board held a public forum to discuss the most effective data-driven, science-based actions to reduce accidents resulting from substance-impaired driving. In May 2013 it released a safety report entitled “Reaching Zero: Actions to eliminate alcohol –impaired driving” in which it reiterated a recommendation for NHTSA to develop a common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing.

Scientific analysis and technical advances have standardized the use of a Breathalyzer and the .8 percent blood/alcohol concentration to determine alcohol intoxication however states beginning to implement marijuana decriminalization (and there are now 22 of them plus the District of Columbia) must act swiftly to address the fact that there really is no legal limit set for driving under the influence of marijuana as there is with alcohol.

For instance, field sobriety tests may be accurate and effective at detecting marijuana impairment. A study of the UK examining the accuracy of field sobriety tests at gauging the amount of marijuana participants had consumed concluded that there is “a strong correlation between cannabis dose received and whether impairment results were present.”

Of course anecdote must not substitute for rigorous scientific data. That’s why I believe we must support further research in this field to form the development of effective public safety policies regulating marijuana.

My friend Dr. Fleming and I had a discussion at one of our hearings on this very matter and I think we agree that that has to be the basis for moving forward – it’s got to be based on science and we need more of it.

My concerns over the ineffectiveness of our existing federal policy of absolute marijuana prohibition is no more of an endorsement of its recreational purposes than opposing alcohol prohibition is an endorsement for drunk driving.

Our nation proved with respect to policies regulating the use of other potentially harmful substances that discouraging the inappropriate use of drugs need not – perhaps should not – involve total prohibition and criminalization.

I have long believed that the federal government governs best when it listens and learns from our states which are the laboratories of democracy. Right now those states are undergoing a great experiment with respect to this subject and we need to learn from their experience and hopefully emulate them in regulations of policies in the future that address both use, appropriate use, medicinal purposes and the issue of criminalization.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

JOHN MICA: I thank the gentleman and recognize Mr. Fleming.

JOHN FLEMING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank Chairman Mica and the other members of the Government Operations Subcommittee for allowing me to participate in today’s hearing. I would also like to thank the chairman for holding this series of hearings which are so vitally important.

It took us centuries of alcohol in our culture and it took a new organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to realize that we were losing Americans wholesale by the tens of thousands by the result of driving under the influence of alcohol.

It took us approximately 400 years to figure out that tobacco was simarily killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. In fact, as recently as the early 1960s there were commercials in which doctors were actually recommending certain types of cigarettes saying it was good for your throat. I worry that we are not, in fact, in the same situation in this case when it comes to marijuana.

Drugged driving is a serious problem according to the statistics compiled by the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. About 10.3 million people 12 and over reported driving under the influence of an illegal drug. Marijuana and its active ingredient, THC, is the most common drug found in drivers and crash victims alike. Studies indicate that between 4 to 14% of drivers involved in accidents – fatal or otherwise – had THC in their system.

Marijuana decreases a driver’s response time, awareness and perception of time and speed – all of which are necessary for safe driving. Another concern of mine is the combination of drugs and alcohol. You see, whenever you hear this debate you often hear that marijuana is innocuous to begin with and, number two, it’s either/or – either someone smokes marijuana or they drink alcohol. That’s not the way it works.

Individuals who are driving under the influence of marijuana will have little inhibitions for drinking beer and alcohol and other substances as well – whatever it takes to feel good. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Area – which works closely with the White House drug control strategy – is collecting data on the impact of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana.

An August 2013 report indicated that in 2006 Colorado drivers testing positive for marijuana were involved in 28% of fatal drug-related vehicle crashes. That number increased to 56% by 2011. Understand that states that are decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana and certainly we know from NIDA who has done some work on this as marijuana is destigmatised, as a threat to use is reduced that use goes up, it finds its way into homes, into candy, into baked goods and once it gets there it finds its way into the brains of teens.

We know from statistics that marijuana has a 9% addiction rate among adults but those who start as teens that rate doubles to one in 6 so it is very important what is happening in these states that are legalizing and even decriminalizing on the medicinal marijuana.

This year’s Rocky Mountain HIDTA report on 2012 data is also very alarming. Using the data from the Highway Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s report due in October will show that between 2007and 2012 while Colorado’s overall traffic fatalities decreased by 15% over that same time marijuana-related fatalities increased 100%.

Earlier this year the University of Colorado released a study confirming that Colorado drivers are testing positive for marijuana and involved in fatal accidents is on the rise. There is no hard and fast way to determine whether the individual is driving under the influence and there is as yet to be established a uniform amount of marijuana which constitutes drugged driving. That is very important as you see in the case of alcohol when you arrest someone....if they have not been in an accident – you just caught them driving under the influence – with so many episodes of that even that person loses their license. They are taken off the road. That’s not happening with marijuana. We don’t have a way to do that yet.

While driving under the influence is unquestionably a problem it is also a concern that pot smoking American youth may also have trouble finding a job. This is especially true in the transportation arena. The US Department of Transportation requires mandatory drug testing on pilots, air traffic controllers, railroad employees and commercial drivers and that can included busses, 18-wheelers – anything that requires a CDL license. These individuals are responsible for numerous lives and it is critical that they are and remain drug free.

Marijuana will also become more pervasive as states continue to embrace permissible laws on medical marijuana and the recreational use of marijuana and kids and youth will have easier use to a dangerous, addictive drug.

Again, back to the medicinal marijuana, there’s no reason why we can’t use components of marijuana for disease treatment. Right now we already have Marinol which is a Schedule III and can be used under the monitoring and observation of a physician closely monitored to the dosage prescribed. It can be done safely just like Hydrocodone. It has the same activity and benefit that the plant, marijuana, has. It is a synthetic THC. We have that already.

There is some claim that the oral extracts of cannabis can be used to treat certain rare seizures in children. Well, it has little or no THC activity. There is no reason why that (and it is under fast track FDA approval) can’t be taken out as well but there is no reason to de-schedule or to make legal marijuana which is now Schedule I. All those things can be done without reducing the Schedule or to legalize the marijuana plant itself.

Mr. Chairman it is no surprise to you or anyone here that I am opposed to the legalization of marijuana. What is surprising, however, is the New York Times editorial board is fully supportive of the legalization of marijuana.

Mr. Chairman I have two response pieces to the New York Times that I would like to submit for the record. One is from the White House Office of National Drug Policy and another opinion piece by Peter Wiener published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Legalization is not the answer nor is it a prudent decision for America.

Marijuana remains a dangerous, highly addictive drug – even science will tell you that.

JOHN MICA: Without objection both of those articles will be submitted for the record.


DOUG McVAY: That's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ Doug McVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org