One dire consequence predicted by opponents of marijuana legalization in Washington State was that there would be “stoned mayhem on the freeways,” with drivers high on newly-legal pot wrecking their cars and endangering the public. An opposite, dire consequence predicted by marijuana aficionados who opposed Initiative 502 was that police would be “shooting hippie fish in a barrel” by using the new 5ng/mL per se driving under the influence of drugs statute to rack up DUID arrests of innocent unimpaired frequent tokers guilty only of always having at least 5ng of THC in their bloodstream.
While the data collection isn’t as precise as it should be, what we can surmise from the data is that neither the “stoned mayhem on the freeways” nor the “shooting hippie fish in a barrel” predictions came true. In fact, from all preliminary appearances, driving has gotten safer in Washington State following legalization of marijuana.
The latest indicator comes via TIME Magazine, which interviewed Sgt. Jason Hicks with the Washington State Patrol. Hicks told TIME that in 2012, Washington made 1,621 arrests for driving under the influence of drugs. In 2013, there were 1,357 DUID arrests, a decline of over 16%. To be fair, these arrests are for all drugs; marijuana is not identified separately. But it doesn’t look like there has been a mass of DUID arrests for tokers.
Another indicator came last fall when law enforcement participated in the annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues grants to states for extra DUI patrols between mid-August and Labor Day Weekend. The start of the campaign happens to coincide with Seattle Hempfest, where 200,000 marijuana smokers converge over a three-day weekend. In 2012, there were 374 people arrested for DUI in King County, where Seattle is located, during the campaign. In 2013, just 292 people got DUIs in King County, a decline of 22%. Again, to be fair, these are all DUIs including alcohol, but it doesn’t look like police were “shooting hippie fish in a barrel.”
The “stoned mayhem on the freeways” scare that led I-502 to include a 5ng per se DUID limit also never materialized. According to Washington Traffic Safety Commission data, in the first three quarters of 2012, there were 90 fatality crashes and 102 fatalities involving drug-impaired drivers. In the first three quarters of 2013, there were 86 fatality crashes and 93 fatalities (fourth quarter data for 2013 isn’t available yet.) This is despite the fact the state is on track to record over a third more THC blood tests of drivers over the 5ng limit.
Besides, as Sgt. Hicks explained to TIME, it’s the totality of a driver’s impairment that matters, not how much THC is in his or her bloodstream. “I could give you study after study after study that shows that at [a blood-alcohol content of] .08, there are levels of impairment with just about everybody,” he says. “I couldn’t produce those same studies when it comes to the five nanogram limit for marijuana.” As it becomes clearer that legalization doesn’t increase traffic danger, the public will become more comfortable with legalization in their state without unscientific DUID limits and give activists a better chance at repealing those limits in Washington and Colorado.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of "The Russ Belville Show."