Pot tale of the week

In the Las Vegas Review-Journal of Aug. 25, Sandra Cherub reported, “[Nevada Attorney General Adam] Laxalt called the experience in Colorado a ‘parade of horribles.’ In the first year of legalization, he said marijuana-related deaths in that state increased 32 percent.”

This statistic has been floating around Nevada, but no one so far has given us a source for it. In this case, we asked the attorney general’s spokesperson where Laxalt got the number, but she declined to provide it. So we contacted the Colorado Department of Transportation to see if they knew where it came from. They replied, “Thanks for the inquiry—there is a lot of data out there that sometimes gets misinterpreted. The increase you are quoting is from the RMHIDTA report, where they report 94 deaths in 2014, up from 71 in 2012 (+32 percent), with an ‘operator’ testing positive for a cannabinoid.”

We have introduced readers to the RMHIDTA, which stands for Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“Pot tale of the week,” RN&R, Aug. 11). It is a prohibitionist group that does not do original research, but puts a sinister spin on the research done by others.

There are problems with the use being made of the 32 percent statistic, according to CDOT. The number reflects all kinds of wheeled vehicles, including wheelchairs and bicycles. “Our data, attached, only includes motor vehicle fatalities—which is a better way to look at this data.”

The attached chart carried a cautionary note: “A positive test for cannabinoids may be the result of active THC or one of its inactive metabolites and does not necessarily indicate impairment.” This led to a second problem with Laxalt’s use of the statistic. It does not reflect whether the driver who had smoked was at fault. Mere presence of marijuana “does not indicate impairment. The presence could be either active or non-active cannabinoids.” The CDOT spokesperson further told us, “For example, if a stoned driver is sitting at a red light and is rear-ended by a distracted driver and a fatality results, that crash would show up in the data.”

He said Colorado is “working to separate out these distinctions [active or inactive components of marijuana] since it’s only the presences of the psychoactive component that is important when it comes to impairment.”