Comment from Dr. Robert DuPont, founding President of the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc., about the previous post. Dr. DuPont was the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) from 1973 to 1978 and was the second White House Drug Chief from 1973 to 1977.
With respect to its having “proven to be very difficult” to find a 0.08 g/dL BAC equivalent for drugs of abuse (especially marijuana), seeking such a level for drugs is dangerously misleading because it implies that additional research will solve the problem and get us those numbers. Far from it. There has been abundant research showing that the search for an acceptable blood or other tissue level which equates with drug impairment of driving is a mirage that stops needed action now. Today drugged driving is a highway safety threat on the level of drunk driving. And yet, it is overlooked and ignored. The search for the BAC equivalent for drugs is a major reason for this continuing and deadly public safety failure.
The zero-tolerance per se standard (where any detectable level of an illegal drug in a driver is a violation – and not a measure of impairment) is the only workable standard to use. We have more than two decades of experience using if for safety-sensitive jobs, including commercial drivers. This is the standard used in Western Europe and Australia. The per se standard for drugged driving is strongly supported by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
No doubt legalization of marijuana will increase levels of marijuana use, not marginally but massively. Look at alcohol and cigarettes. Among Americans 12 and older, 51% used alcohol in the past 30 days. For cigarettes, it was 27% and for all illegal drugs combined it was 9% — 7% for marijuana alone. THAT is the evidence for the positive impact of “prohibition” (who says making drugs illegal has failed as a public health strategy?). With the legalization and commercialization of marijuana as envisioned in the Colorado and Washington ballot initiatives, the marijuana use figure will zoom, eventually matching alcohol and tobacco.
There will be huge increased costs to be paid for this rise in marijuana use in highway safety, but so there will be major adverse effects on education, including poor academic performance and dropping out, and increases in substance abuse treatment admissions. Those are just the start of the high costs of marijuana legalization. The laws in Washington and Colorado make the United States the only nation in the world ever to legalize and fully commercialize marijuana in the model of alcohol and tobacco.
Marijuana legalization is the wrong way to go in the search for a better drug policy. We need policies that reduce drug use, not policies like legalization that increase drug use.