Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pot Luck While Driving

According to an article in Time magazine, “People who drive within three hours of smoking marijuana are at nearly twice the risk of being in an accident that leads to serious injury or death, compared with sober drivers, according to anew review of the research.

“For the new review, published in BMJ, Canadian researches pooled the results of nine well-designed, high-quality studies that included nearly 50,000 drivers involved in crashes in multiple countries. They found that recent marijuana use was associated with a 92 percent increased risk of fatal or near-fatal accidents. The better quality of the study, the more likely it was to show an increase in marijuana-related risk.”

However, the writer was quick to point out that the risk for minor collisions was not raised significantly, speculating that stoned drivers are more aware and cautious, although she admits their reflexes are affected. She refers back to earlier studies to help BMJ’s research.

“Prior research on the risks of stoned driving has been mixed, with about half of the studies finding that marijuana raises the chance of crashing and the rest showing either no effect or a slight decrease in risk. Driving simulation studies with experienced marijuana users suggests that when people have consumed high doses of the drug, there’s an increased risk of accident, but that, unlike alcohol, users are aware of their impairment and tend to drive more cautiously, rather than with greater recklessness.”

A biweekly local newspaper runs a section called “Police Blotter.” In today’s Police Blotter, every single incident was directly related to drugs, including a “significant” number of drivers using marijuana. One car was pulled over for speeding. The patrolman noted the strong smell of marijuana. The driver was well-behaved; he immediately turned over all his paraphernalia to the officer. In the next incident, the driver of a BMW was pulled over for not keeping to the right on a two-lane road. Examining the car, the patrolman found drug paraphernalia pertaining to heroin. Next, a car was stopped after crossing the double-yellow line on a busy road. “Allegedly”, heroin and cocaine bags were strewn all over the car. In another incident, a driver was stopped for having a cracked windshield. Again, this officer noted a strong odor of marijuana. He searched the car and found drug paraphernalia. Finally, the top story of the blotter involved a bizarre case of domestic violence, with the owner of a house accusing his tenant of eating food he wasn’t supposed to be eating. He then threatened the tenant with a gun. The tenant called police, who found him in possession of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

My next-door neighbor was the victim of a teenaged driver stoned on pot. She has 32 broken bones and a plate in her head where her skull was fractured. The victim was a pedestrian. None of these drug users was on “medical marijuana”. Medical marijuana is reported to be a pill that contains none of the hallucinogenic effects of pot and other drugs. No impairment is involved, at least according to its advocates.

That is not the case with traditional marijuana. If there was no altered state of consciousness, the drug would have no attraction for its users. Of course it affects them. What does it matter to the victim of a head-on collision whether the driver was speeding or driving carefully on the other side of the road? The driver of the car with the cracked windshield displayed no obvious signs of impairment in his driving. Was that due to the allegedly harmless effects of marijuana or providence in the form of an observant police officer doing his duty? The girl laid claim to ownership of the paraphernalia and she was arrested and issued a motor vehicle summons, rather than the driver of the car, who was not charged at all.

The writer herself crosses the editorial double-yellow line to extemporize on the evils of drinking while driving rather driving under the influence of pot. All this on the weekend that singer Whitney Houston was mourned at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. Her movie co-star blamed her drug use on insecurity about her talents as an actress and even as a singer, which runs counter to her own assertions that she was a party girl and made no apologies for it. As she paid the ultimate price for such a mistake, we will let her rest in peace. But there will be no peace, no negotiations, no compromises in the War on Drugs.

Houston’s family was correct insist on holding her funeral in a proper church rather than a stadium. However, it does seem ironic that her fans - locals in the Newark neighborhood of the church - were kept quite a distance away from the funeral activities, as though the fans were responsibile for her demise, while finely dressed Hollywood elites, the very pillars of the Hollywood party culture, paraded into the church where they were given places of honor.

To the Baptist church’s credit, the cameras were focused on the altar where Houston’s body lay, and not on the plumage in the pews. An “everybody does it” attitude pervades Hollywood. Those who survive simply count themselves lucky. Those who don’t - like Houston - are forgiven for their mistakes.

Yes, we all hope to be forgiven for our mistakes. But one wonders which mistake they forgive her for? For doing the drugs at all? Or for not being more judicious, careful, and “lucky”? Gov. Christie has taken a lot of flack - in stride - for lowering state flags to half-mast in her honor. Though it was a kindly gesture, it also sends an unmistakable message to young people that they can continue gambling with theirs and others’ lives, and if they do reach stardom and then “blow it”, ruining their careers and ending their lives, they will still be remembered with affection and nothing will be said to put a blot on the revered, recreational use of party drugs.

It wasn’t the drugs; it was Whitney’s weakness for them. So forgive her for her weaknesses (indeed) and party on.


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