The Kayla Mendoza "2 drunk 2 care" story is tragic. And, as anything this senseless and calamitous is prone to do, it has brought up a lot of passionate opinions, anger, and outrage.
Most notably, people have taken to the comments in our original post of this story to debate the effects of marijuana when it comes to driving and whether this incident is a reason why it shouldn't be legalized in Florida.
Mendoza called herself the "pothead princess" on Twitter, and her account is riddled with allusions to smoking weed.
But this isolated incident should not halt the drive to legalize marijuana in Florida.
First of all, statistically speaking, weed alone just doesn't cause traffic deaths.
In July 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study that showed 6.8 percent of motorists involved in accidents tested positive for cannabis.
Certainly Mendoza falls into this category. But keep in mind that she allegedly had booze in her system in addition to weed.
Six percent is nothing. An argument can be made that the reason the number is low is due to marijuana being illegal. But a better question would be: How many of these drivers also had booze in their system as well as weed (like Mendoza allegedly had)? There's also a matter of dosage and consumption.
Secondly, weed, on its own, is not a bad thing.
We already know that alcohol severely impairs driving. In this 2009 article, Yale psychiatrist Richard Sewell found that booze is far more dangerous for drivers than weed.
A main point Sewell makes is that different pot dosages affects drivers in different ways, sometimes (but rarely) badly enough that someone shouldn't drive, sometimes not bad at all. Meanwhile, his study (and pretty much all studies) shows that alcohol impairs drivers badly every single time:
"Detrimental effects of cannabis use vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions than with more complex tasks that require conscious control, whereas with alcohol produces an opposite pattern of impairment. Because of both this and an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies."
Alcohol, the study shows, causes high levels of cognitive impairment -- i.e., it fucks up your brain and judgment -- while "most marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on actual road tests."
Basically, someone on weed is far less likely to cause an accident than someone who is drunk. Far less.
According to a 1999 study titled "Role of cannabis in motor vehicle crashes" in Epidemiologic Reviews, there was no evidence found that consuming weed on its own increases someone's culpability for fatal road accidents or injuries.
Meanwhile, drunk drivers are ten times more likely to cause fatal car accidents.
Funnily enough, another study shows that potheads are more alert than alcoholics on the road.
Third, and probably most important to this argument, recent studies show that legalizing pot has actually reduced drunk driving.
A new study shows a 9 percent drop in traffic deaths where pot has been made legal. It's not a huge number. But it's significant enough to take note.
Researchers who poured through data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System found that the 13 states that have legalized medical marijuana between 1990 and 2009 show evidence that booze consumption for those 20 to 29 years of age went down. The result has been fewer deaths on the road.
Alcohol, a far more dangerous thing than weed, is not only legal; it's sold by the gallons in South Florida bars and clubs. Sure, there are laws that prevent people under 21 from purchasing it. But it's legal.
Moreover, alcohol is incredibly addictive and damages one's health.
Pot, not so much.
The Kayla Mendoza incident, while tragic, shouldn't be a jumping-off point to try to curb the legalization of marijuana.
Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph.
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