More ‘Reefer Madness’ from ONDCP; New Campaign Misleads Public on Marijuana and Driving

Press Release November 28, 2005
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Paul Armentano at (202) 483-5500

Leading drug policy experts consider the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) latest anti-marijuana campaign yet another dose of “Reefer Madness.” ONDCP recently announced its “Steer Clear of Pot” initiative which will partner with driving schools and other leading health, safety and youth-serving organizations to “warn parents of the prevalence and dangers of drugged driving and to provide information to help teens.”

“Steer Clear of Pot” is part of an ongoing ONDCP national “drugged driving” campaign that consistently distorts the scientific evidence in order to promote “zero tolerance” policies rather than pragmatic measures to improve safety on the roads, drug policy experts say.

“ONDCP’s basic problem is its lack of regard for scientific evidence and fundamental honesty,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “No one wants young people or anyone else driving impaired, but this objective is not served by government propaganda that contradicts the scientific consensus in this area.

“The optimal approach is testing that actually determines whether or not one is impaired — by alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs or simple lack of sleep,” Nadelmann said. “ONDCP’s effort to treat a responsible driver who smoked a joint a day before he got behind the wheel of a car the same as a drunk driver is both nonsensical and unjust.”

While acute cannabis intoxication has been shown to have demonstrable impact on psychomotor performance, these effects are typically mild and short-lived — typically lasting at most one to three hours, and certainly not 24 hours, as claimed by the Drug Czar. Moreover, unlike with alcohol, the accident risk caused by cannabis –particularly among those who are not acutely intoxicated — appears limited because subjects under its influence are generally aware of their impairment and compensate to some extent, such as by slowing down and by focusing their attention when they know a response will be required. This response is the opposite of that exhibited by drivers under the influence of alcohol, who tend to drive in a more risky manner proportional to their intoxication.

A primary message in the ONDCP’s initiative is that marijuana causes significant driver impairment and is responsible for countless automobile accidents. However, according to researchers at the University of Maryland’s National Center for Trauma and EMS, a recent study of 2,500 injured drivers with the presence of intoxicants in their system during a car crash did not find an association between crash culpability and marijuana use. Researchers determined that drivers between the ages of 41 and 60 who tested positive for marijuana were less likely to be culpable than drug-free drivers.

“We all support the goal of keeping impaired drivers off the road, regardless of whether the driver is impaired from alcohol or other drugs, yet the enforcement of so-called zero tolerance per se laws neither addresses the problem of drugged driving nor offers a legitimate solution. Rather, these laws in their strictest form falsely categorize sober drivers as ‘intoxicated’ simply because they had consumed an illicit substance — particularly marijuana — some days or weeks earlier,” said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst with NORML. “To date, the quantitative role of cannabis consumption in on-road traffic accidents is, at this point, not well understood. Yet, from the available research, it is apparent that cannabis’ adverse on-road impact is hardly so great as to warrant the passage and enforcement of ‘zero tolerance’ per se DUID legislation, which would unavoidably classify many sober cannabis users as “impaired” and threaten them with criminal prosecution.”

For more information on the latest studies about marijuana and driving, go to

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.