His article opened, "A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds that drivers who use marijuana are at a significantly lower risk for a crash than drivers who use alcohol. And after adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use, drivers who tested positive for marijuana were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving." That could be a game changing pronouncement. (The story included the remarkable chart at right.)
It's been extraordinary how rapidly public opinion has shifted on marijuana regulation. Legalized pot in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere transformed the terms of debate both nationally and in Texas. And myth busting research like this contributes to a more honest, evidence-based debate over these sorts of once-taboo topics.
That said, this news shouldn't be taken as license to immediately go smoke and drive. Ingraham's column concluded:
So, should we all assume that we're safe to blaze one and go for a joyride whenever the whimsy strikes us? Absolutely not. There's plenty of evidence showing that marijuana use impairs key driving skills. If you get really stoned and then get behind the wheel, you're asking for trouble.Bottom line, impaired drivers should be arrested and taken off the road whether they're drunk, stoned, or high on prescription drugs. But the argument that cops must arrest every pot smoker because they might drive impaired doesn't jibe with reality or the data reviewed by the feds. As a general rule, there's no greater public safety benefit from arresting and jailing a pot smoker than from giving them a Class C ticket or a civil citation.
What we do need, however, are better roadside mechanisms for detecting marijuana-related impairment. Several companies are developing pot breathalyzers for this purpose.
We also need a lot more research into the effects of marijuana use on driving ability, particularly to get a better sense of how pot's effect on driving diminishes in the hours after using. But this kind of research remains incredibly difficult to do, primarily because the federal government still classifies weed as a Schedule 1 substance, as dangerous as heroin.