Don't be surprised if Isaac Robert Longo becomes a poster child for the evils of driving while high by forces girding to defeat marijuana legalization in California this November.
After all, the 33-year-old Placentia man smoked pot before causing a five-car pileup on the 55 freeway in November 2007 that killed an 82-year-old woman and injured four others.
But there is more to consider here before spooking voters with this tragic tale.
Longo, who had prior DUI convictions in 1998 and 2000, pleaded guilty last week to one felony count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and he admitted to sentencing enhancements and allegations for causing great bodily injury and causing bodily injury to multiple victims. He could get 15 years to life in state prison at his Sept. 10 sentencing in Santa Ana.
Seems like the makings of a pot bogeyman, but one must also consider Longo also tested positive for the prescription medications Clonazepam, a strong medication that controls seizures and relieves panic attacks, and Gabapentin, another anti-seizure drug that also relieves pain from shingles.
I just checked, and there are no voter initiatives on the November ballot seeking to make Clonazepam and Gabapentin legal because they already are--with a physician's script.
Public Safety First, a group composed of law enforcement and MADD types mounting opposition to Prop 219, ignores the prescription menace and instead points to an unpublished report by Al Crancer, a retired National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researcher who famously authored a 1969 study showing that marijuana had no evident effect on driving performance.
Crancer, who now runs his own stats-for-hire business, finds in his new report that legalization could cause a tripling in marijuana-caused accidents.
Fox News' Fox and Friends program and its dead-behind-the-eyes anchorbots recently hosted a police chief pointing to the Crancer study as evidence that pot legalization will spill buckets and buckets of more blood on California asphalt.
However, the Fox report failed to note that Crancer still believes that marijuana is safer than alcohol. And, while pointing to a recent doubling in the incidence of marijuana in fatal drivers in California, he noted alcohol was present in about half of those cases.
I just checked, and there is no voter initiative on the November ballot seeking to make alcohol legal because it already is--if you're over 21.
What about the other half of those pot-related fatalities? Tellingly--well, un-tellingly--Crancer does not say whether other impairing substances were also in the blood of those drivers.
Remember, this is a state where Twinkies have been found to be an impairing substance.
Crancer asserts that the significant jump in pot-related fatals accompanies the legalization of medical marijuana in the Golden State. (Wonder if he issues similar reports every time a new prescription drug is released on the market?)
Dale Gieringer at California's National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) does a great job of swatting Crancer's study aside like it's a blind gnat.
For instance, Gieringer points out this huge discrepancy: Crancer uses 2004 as the base year for when medical herb was legalized. But California voters passed Prop 215 in 1996, while cannabis clinics did not explode in Southern California until 2006-07.
"The rise in marijuana-related accidents therefore has no obvious relation to any change in the legal availability of marijuana," writes Gieringer, who does not stop there with the debunking.
- "Compared to other states, California ranks 14th in the nation in the rate of marijuana involvement in fatal accidents at 5.5%. Significantly, this is substantially below that of several states with notably tougher marijuana laws, including South Carolina (7.8%), Indiana (8.4%), Missouri (6.9%) and New Hampshire (14.1%), which ranks highest in the nation."
- "A county-by-county breakdown of marijuana-related accidents in California shows no evident pattern. The highest rates (over 16%) occurred in rural counties: Modoc, Del Norte, Yuba, San Luis Obispo, Inyo, Placer, Mendocino, and Humboldt; only the last two of these are known for liberal marijuana enforcement. In contrast, zero (0%) accidents were reported in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, two of the most marijuana-friendly counties in the state Alameda County, the home of Oaksterdam, was slightly below the state average at 5.1%, while Los Angeles, the state's largest county, was above average at 6.8%."
- "A succession of studies over the years have consistently found that marijuana--in marked contrast to alcohol--has remarkably little impact on highway safety. In the most recent driving study, researchers at Hartford Hospital and the University of Iowa found that drivers on marijuana scored nearly identically on driving simulator tests to drug-free drivers. Repeated surveys of fatal accidents involving tens of thousands of drivers have found that those with marijuana only in their blood are on average no more dangerous, and in many cases safer, than those with low, legal levels of alcohol (beneath .08% alcohol in blood, the threshold for DUI)."
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The dangers of legalization are dramatically overstated in Crancer arbitrarily assumes that legalization would cause marijuana involvement in fatal accidents to triple. However, studies have repeatedly failed to find any relation between liberal marijuana laws and increased usage. Despite having the most liberal access to marijuana in the nation, California ranks only slightly above average in marijuana usage, behind 16 other states and the District of Columbia, according to government surveys. In the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available to all adults, usage is less than in many other European countries and only half that in the U.S., according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
He does agree with Crancer on one point: marijuana combined with alcohol is "highly dangerous." Of course, alcohol has proven to be highly dangerous all by itself.
Hmmm, sounds like the buzzkillers are targeting the wrong substance.