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« His Apology To Joe Lieberman | Main | Peace Is At Hand »

Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics

I missed John Stossel's ABC special on the War on (Some) Drugs last night, but I heard that he made Asa Hutchinson look like an ass, and it apparently hit a nerve. Bob Weiner has gone after him with a lot of unadulterated Bravo Sierra.

...Stossel pushes his inaccurate points that the drug war 'creates crime' when it is precisely the opposite: drug use generates murders, domestic violence, and date rapes. He soft pedals marijuana use, with assertions by an archetypical long haired user that 'marijuana hasn't killed anyone,' but has no one pointing out that marijuana is the second leading cause of car crashes as well as the primary drug in teen drug treatment...

Of course, he provides no evidence that drug use, per se, generates murders or domestic violence. I certainly can't imagine marijuana doing that.

And I'd wager that most date rapes are caused by alcohol.

As for marijuana being the second leading cause of car crashes, I'm aware of no data on that subject. I think he's probably just making it up. And as for the teen drug treatment story, there's no context to describe what such "treatment" might be or why it might be necessary (though it's often basically a Kafkaesque imprisonment, in which denials of drug use are taken to be proof of drug use).

The drug warriors are getting desperate.

[Update at 9:40 AM PDT]

On the marijuana causing traffic accidents thing, he was apparently repeating an old lie of Barry McCaffrey's. From Jacob Sullum's Reason article on the subject:

"Marijuana is now the second-leading cause of car crashes among young people," McCaffrey wrote in USA Today a couple of years ago. This claim surprised Dale Gieringer, California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who called McCaffrey?s office for the source.

Gieringer was referred to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A NHTSA spokesman confirmed that marijuana is the second most common drug detected after fatal crashes but emphasized that it is not necessarily a cause of those accidents.

As Gieringer noted in his newsletter, a 1990-91 study by NHTSA found that 52 percent of drivers in fatal crashes had alcohol in their blood, compared to 7 percent with traces of marijuana. In analyzing the role that drugs played in the crashes, NHTSA found "no indication that marijuana by itself was a cause of fatal accidents."

I want Mr. Weiner to write on the chalkboard a thousand times, "Correlation is not causation."

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 31, 2002 09:08 AM
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If Mr. Weiner is trying to make the point that car crashes justify the criminalization of marijuana, doesn't it follow that alcohol ought to be the number 1 criminalized drug?
I doubt he has any plans to fill the nation's already packed prisons with millions of alcoholics...

Posted by Jim Gerrish at July 31, 2002 10:18 AM

If I recall a chunk of that 7% who tested positive for marijuana use were also, ahem, drunk. If we assume that the effects of alcohol were a greater contributor to the crash than those of marijuana then the spread grows wider still.

I've little doubt that a few folks have gotten themselves killed doing something stupid while under the influence of THC but I'm inclined to doubt it's a leading cause of fatal auto accidents. If it were there would be almost no surviving high school attendees from the late Seventies.

Part of the problem is they just aren't going fast enough. The pot smokers are the ones who get arrested for flying down the freeway at 3:30 AM on their way to Tommy's...

going 10 MPH.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at July 31, 2002 10:54 AM

Smoking marijuana and driving is no more dangerous than driving after taking an OTC cough medicine or driving while very tired.

Posted by Hefty at July 31, 2002 12:11 PM

Stossel didn't make Hutchison look like an ass, Hutchison did it all on his own. When presented with arguments concerning the drug war's failure, Hutchison responded more or less with "We just need to try harder." Yeah, this government boondoggle is a failure, so let's make it bigger. I think it takes a special kind of idiot to make such arguments with a straight face, and Hutchison is just such an idiot.

Stossel pointed out that most drug crime came not from drug users, but gangs fighting over turf. When users did commit crimes it was usually to get money to pay the high price of drugs. My favorite line (in a cynical way) came when Stossel pointed out that ending prohibition ended the crime and gang activity associated with it. Hutchison responded saying that organized crime didn't go away, it just went somewhere else. Well duh, but don't you think there's a lesson there?

Posted by Ron Copeland at July 31, 2002 12:55 PM

Another thing to consider about THC levels is that they can be detected for about two weeks after use. So all you really know is that 7% of those involved in fatal crashes used pot within two weeks.

Yeah, I bet people will manage to hurt or kill themselves on pot. So what? Being drunk is not a crime, just driving drunk. We can deal with other drugs the same way.

Posted by Stephen Skubinna at July 31, 2002 01:45 PM

Er... Potheads can justify anything. I hate to break it to you the vast portion of the "war on drugs" is spent agianst drug cartels and anti- drug PR. Not snooping on potheads.

Secondly this "War on Drugs" crap has got be stopped. We aren't fighting any war. If we were there wouldn't be a need to arrest smugglers we could just shoot them.

Posted by Dr. Clausewitz at July 31, 2002 03:06 PM

Many years ago Car and Driver did the standard drive an obstacle course, take a drink, drive the course, take a drink, drive, drink until you wipe out the course. A month or two later they did the same thing with pot; drive, toke, drive, toke, etc. The results were interesting. The subject's driving actually improved up to the point that they got so stoned that they didn't feel like paying attention anymore. Even the Car and Driver editor's were suprised at that.

Posted by Steve Mitterer at July 31, 2002 04:15 PM

Dr. Clausewitz, I can't speak for anyone else, but I am certainly not a "pothead." I have no interest in smoking marijuana (nor do I have any interest in prohibiting any adult who wishes to from doing so).

Would you call someone who opposes affirmative action on principle a racist?

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 1, 2002 08:50 AM

Like Rand I don't use pot or any other illegal drug. Not interested, and brown liquor gives me everything I look for from recreational chemistry. But I cannot in any way consider our war on drugs to be a success. We have artificially inflated drug prices, criminalized victimless behavior, elevated too many crimes from local to federal jurisdiction, expanded the federal bureaucracy, and militarized law enforcement. And last but not least, we have poured unnacceptable amounts of money down that rathole to no good effect.

Oh, and one more thing - every FBI agent chasing bales of pot is one fewer chasing terrorists.

Posted by Stephen Skubinna at August 1, 2002 08:36 PM

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