According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 6.9 percent of all Americans over the age of eighteen have used cannabis at least once this month, totaling an estimated 15.8 million adults who smoke, vaporize, or eat marijuana. One out of five of those monthly adult pot smokers is consuming daily, making about 3.2 million everyday tokers with another 3.3 million who toke at least twenty days a month. (And remember, this is a tally of the people who were willing to admit to a total stranger on the telephone who is conducting a survey for the federal government regarding personal violation of state and federal drug laws – it’s possible the numbers underestimate the true level of American pot smoking.)
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), detection of the residual, inactive traces of marijuana in urine “only indicates prior THC exposure.” Detection of these traces, called ‘metabolites’ (or THC-COOH), “is well past the window of intoxication and impairment.” Not only does detection of these metabolites “generally indicate use within 1-3 days,” for regular users, “the detection window could be significantly longer.” Even when testing for active marijuana (THC) in the bloodstream, NHTSA says, “It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.”
To put it another way, seven in 100 American adults smoked pot this month and another four in 100 American adults will have smoked pot this year. Any one of those eleven pot smokers will test positive for marijuana metabolites for a few days after toking, well after they are no longer “high”, and a couple of them may test positive for a week or even a month. Even the government says you can’t predict effects on driving based on these tests alone.
So why does the American media constantly highlight the discovery of marijuana metabolites in the systems of accident victims, even to the point of minimizing the actual causes of the accident?
Today in the Orange County Register, I find the alarmist headline:
Marijuana found in body of Newport-to-Ensenada sailor
NEWPORT BEACH – Traces of marijuana were found in the body of one of the sailors killed in a fatal crash during a yacht race from Newport Beach to Ensenada, according to a report released by the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office.
According to the office, although all four sailors aboard the 37-foot Aegean tested negative for alcohol, they found traces of marijuana in one man, Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Florida.
So a yacht operated by four sober guys wrecks and we discover one of the guys was a pot smoker. Buried deeper in the story is the fact that Coast Guard is investigating and won’t reach a conclusion until October, and another panel discovered GPS data showing the yacht ran into a small island. Others believe the yacht was run into by a larger vessel, as the destruction to the yacht wouldn’t match the story of running aground on a small island.
But the casual reader skimming headlines and ledes will be left with that impression of “marijuana” and “fatal crash”. There’s no evidence to suggest the other three sailors were taking a nap while the fourth was sparking a doobie and got so high he didn’t notice an island or another ship bearing down on him.
It is as irrelevant to mention whether an accident victim had traces of marijuana in their system and speculative (at best) to presume marijuana had anything to do with the accident. The OC Register and the American news media does this to continue the demonization of marijuana and its consumers.