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Glad to know the cops have their priorities right

This story about a drugs bust at a drive-thru restaurant may get some folk chuckling but I am not getting the joke. One of thousands of examples, in fact, of how the war on drugs is a waste of time, energy and law-enforcement talent. At a time when we live with the threat of terrorism, one would like to think that priorities were a touch different on both sides of the Atlantic.

41 comments to Glad to know the cops have their priorities right

  • James Nicola

    I normally agree that the ‘War on Drugs’ mixes pointlesness, ridiculous expense and moral repulsiveness in a unfortunately common combination – but I don’t have a problem with this case. If the article’s right they were driving and getting through a doobie at the same time. Of course, I have no personal knowledge of this sort of thing at all ever, but I’m told by usually reliable sources that marijuana has been known to slow reaction times… Speaking as a pedestrian, I’d rather drivers weren’t stoned when they’re coming down the street I’m on, and I don’t think that’s a hugely unreasonable limitation of their individual freedom.

  • David Amon

    I live in a country (I probably don’t have to mention which one) where every city has quite a few coffee shops (not for coffee), but i don’t think I’ve ever heard of case where someone caused an accident because the person was stoned behind the wheel (‘smoking and driving’, if you will). Victims from drinking and driving however.. every weekend.

    The same with fighting.

    Of course it is still a very stupid to do any kind of drugs if you are planning on driving.

    Also, is it normal for a persons full name to get mentioned in the press for such a minor offence?

  • permanent expat

    Okay, any drug behind the wheel is a no-no……….and David is right. I have never in all my years, personally, seen an aggressive pot-smoker.
    In those happy & better days when nobody had even heared of Koh Samui and it took a long trip in a ‘Schnellboot’ to get there, the one-woman one-wok beach ‘restaurant’ near our shack specialized in marijuana omelette………heaven in heaven……then.

  • James Nicola

    Google ‘drug driving’ for lots of cases or have a look here – http://www.jr2.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/band141/b141-3.html (which summarises a Dutch study amongst others), http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/DrugsDriving, http://www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/tp/tp14179/Impacts%20of%20cannabis_E_v3.pdf and http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8407 -for the general view.

    Bottom line is between 10 and 20% of people involved in fatal accidents, depending on who you believe, have some level of cannabis in their bloodstream. Sure, alcohol’s worse and the combination is worst of all, but I don’t see a libertarian case for tolerating drivers who are drugged – either by hard, soft, prescription or legal drug (unless they’re doing it somewhere where they can only hurt themselves and aren’t expecting any injury to be treated at the state’s expense).

  • Nick Timms

    The libertarian case is that people should be punished for what they do and not what they might do.

    Two guys smoking pot while driving seems to me to be a pretty stupid thing to do but they had not, at the time of their arrest, harmed anyone. Had they done so, the libertarian would demand full restitution for property damage and damages paid for any injury or fatalities (to the surviving relatives).

    The usual statist response to this would be that having been arrested before causing any harm they could not then hurt anyone. This is true but by allowing the law to do this we all give away liberties and the assumption that most of us will act responsibly.

    Also under our current system, had the two idiots caused an accident before being arrested, would the injured parties have had restitution?

  • David Amon

    Like I said. Want to take drugs? Fine by me, just don’t drive. But I don’t see any FOX News articles about people being arrested at the drive-thru for having a beer behind the wheel. And since cannabis accounts for 2.5% of the fatal accidents, and alcohol for 29%, this all seems paranoia to me.

  • David Amon

    Nick, your view is very ideological, but not very realistic I think. Do you hold the same reasoning for a person firing a gun in a crowded place? As long as he hurts no one it’s okay. And if he does hit you in the spine, well there is always the restitution!

    And restitution is only so much when you’re dead.

  • RAB

    We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like ” I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….”

    Hunter S Thompson R.I.P

    He may have blown his brains out
    but not in a car.
    Beep beep yeah!

  • Personal experience — pot while driving, very bad!

    I’m normally distracted by shiny objects — it gets much worse high

  • Bottom line is between 10 and 20% of people involved in fatal accidents, depending on who you believe, have some level of cannabis in their bloodstream.

    Between 20 and 40% of people involved in fatal accidents, depending on who you believe, are responsible for causing those accidents. Standard tests are not for cannabis, but for cannabis metabolites, which can be detected for up to a month after the end of consumption. This level of correlation does not even approach evidence of cause.

  • James Nicola


    You could construct a case on that basis against ever prosecuting anyone for attempted murder. It would be logically sound – and dumb.


    If you read the studies I linked you’ll notice that they include control groups. Granted they’re not perfect randomised double blind, but they’re as good as they get in less controlled environments than lab test – and most importantly, the findings are consistent across different studies in different places by different people.

    Carrying on the quotes from the annals of debauchery – the best has to be Burgess’s opening to Earthly Powers.

    It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

    Less classic, but arguably more relevant to this discussion – anybody remember this?

    Name me, if you can, a better feeling then you get when you’re half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke in your nose and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over while you’re going a hundred miles an hour down a suburban high street.
    The title’s not bad either…

  • Simon Lawrence

    James Nicola – supposedly it’s between about 6 and 12% which is roughly the same proportion of people who have Marijuana in their blood stream. Furthermore those who smoke a lot of Marijuana are young, especially males, who are much more likely to have accidents. This is compounded by the fact that people generally smoke later in the day, when more acidents occur.

    Statistically speaking if there were a lower proportion of accidents in which someone had THC in their blood stream one could make a strong claim that it makes you a better driver.

  • RAB

    Fwew! some comments eh?
    I’m gonna roll another big one
    thank god I don’t drive!

  • I have not smoked up, but I’ve been around plenty of people who have.

    You could never convince me that THC use makes one a better driver. Ever.

    A classic moment was when my roommate had to spend ten minutes planning how he would walk across the room.

  • Eric

    Getting back to the original point, what would you expect the cops to do? It’s not like they drove out to somebody’s house and broke down the door. If cops don’t do anything when you break the law right in front of them, people start to get the idea that they can pick and choose which laws to follow. When enough people start to think that way you have a real problem.

    I think that’s the psychology behind New York’s success with their “broken windows” policy. Bust people who are breaking small laws and you’re going to have less big crime.

    Of course, I’ll be the first to agree too many things are illegal. As Milton Friedman said, it’s easy to explain to someone why a new program or law makes sense, but the argument on the other side is much more subtle.

  • RAB

    Um, Mastiff love just how hip are you?
    “I have not smoked up!”
    Your friend would have been a pleasure in the old days.
    It was the speedfreaks you had to watch out for.
    They would cross the room in ten seconds flat. And when they got back from the bathroom, would spend 20 minutes recounting their incredible journey…

  • ResidentAlien

    Glad to see that nobody argues in favour of cannabis staying illegal. Its prohibition is one of the biggest enfringements on liberty we suffer from. If dopesmokers could be bothered to take action libertarians would have many allies.

    As for driving whilst intoxicated. I say leave it up to the market. The state can limit itself to requiring liability insurance in the amount of $x. If you can find an insurer who is OK with you driving drunk or stoned then go right ahead; of course you are still liable for your actions under criminal law.

    I do recall one survey which claimed that smoking small amounts of Leb Red (or any similar brand) actually improved your driving skills by increasing concentration. Apparently it was only at very high doses that delayed reactions came into play. Still, I would take this with a large pinch of NaCl. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a survey which showed that small amounts of alcohol made you a friendlier, more considerate driver.

  • ResidentAlien

    The war continues. Just what right does the government think it has to interfere in commerce like this? What benefit, other than their own jobs and pensions is being served?

  • Robert

    Re. Resident Alien, small amounts of alcohol do make people better drivers.

    The Grand Rapids study of 1964 was probably the first to scientifically measure driving impairment and blood alcohol levels. (It was also the basis of Britain’s breathalyser law of 1967.) Surprisingly, it showed that the probability of a driver having an accident actually fell with an increasing blood/alcohol level, bottoming-out at around 40mg/100ml (or 0.04%, to use the American definition). From that point it started to rise, reaching about the same level as for a completely sober driver at 80mg/100ml (0.08%) – the curent legal limit in the UK and the United States.

    Nor was this a fluke: subsequent studies have produced the same result.

  • Paul Coulam

    Just regarding this ideological point by Nick Timms:

    The libertarian case is that people should be punished for what they do and not what they might do.

    Two guys smoking pot while driving seems to me to be a pretty stupid thing to do but they had not, at the time of their arrest, harmed anyone.

    Several commenters have seen that there is an error in this view but this is not because it is too ideological (David Amon) or logically sound but dumb (James Nicola).

    Nick is correct in saying that people be punished for what they actually do, not what they might do but fails to spot what they have actually done. In driving under the influence against the recognised rules of the road, or indeed in the hypothetical example of shooting a gun randomly, the perpetrator is imposing a risk of harm on innocent people that would not otherwise be there. They can be quite justly (and libertarianly) punished and made to pay restitution to all imposed upon parties in proportion to their responsibility for creating such an extra contractual risk.

  • Alex

    how do you know it wasn’t only the passenger smoking a giant blunt?

    i read the other day that 25% of prisinors in US jails are there because of charges related to cannabis(i’m not sure if this is true though?). If it is then this seems like a massive waste of cash to me!

  • Chris Padfield

    The libertarian case is that people should be punished for what they do and not what they might do.

    As Paul Coulam says, they are doing something. What a libertarian would not allow them to be punished for is sitting at home discussing if they should make a trip down to KFC to pick up some food. Only once once they where in the car would punishment be acceptable because it is at this point the risk to others has been realised.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Chris, Paul, agreed, which is why I said above that any jail sentence or fine for a driver who causes death and injury while under influence of X must reflect said influence. It is, however, at odds with liberal law (or so I would have thought) to pre-emptively bust folk for doing something that might lead to an accident. Take the current obsession with going after motorists for using a mobile phone, for instance.

  • Great discussion. This is why rules regarding the interpretation of “negligence” have evolved in both the U.S. and Britain.

    It is negligent to smoke dope whilst driving and it is understandably one in which the penalties are far less severe than actually killing someone. I’m a libertarian, but to completely eliminate prenalties for negligence because someone hasn’t actually hurt anyone yet is a very bad idea.

    I understand the problems this causes with where we then draw the line so as not to arbitrarily infringe upon personal liberty. I don’t dismiss these problems, but feel there are legitimate shades of grey to be considered.

  • Paul Coulam


    Well we mustn’t let our ideological thinking be influenced by whatever current obsessions the state has. My point is that the very act of imposing an extra contractual risk is itself unlibertarian and makes the perpetrator liable for restitution to the imposed upon parties.

    If the recognised rules of the road allow drink driving, drugged driving or mobile phone use etc. then road users are contractually accepting those risks in choosing to use the roads. If these things are forbidden, however, then to go ahead and impose these risks extra contractually anyway is to commit a libertarian violation.

    Obviously a free market in road owner ship would better reflect what people’s risk preferences are for these things, but given that we have recognised rules of the road, that these rules forbid mobile phone use and that innocent people use the roads on that understanding then it is not illiberal for people using mobile phones in cars to be punished for imposing such a risk.

    This is not to say that we should not vehemently criticize the state or the police for obsessing about these things at the expense of other priorities or to distract us from their own far greater crimes.

  • Paul Coulam


    I don’t dismiss these problems, but feel there are legitimate shades of grey to be considered.

    I always find that reading and learning more correct ideology helps reduce this unfortunate perception of ‘shades of grey’. I have been unable to see any ‘shades of grey’ for years now.

  • Paul,
    Libertarians aren’t immune from blinding idealism. “Correct ideology” is arguably oxymoronic. I do not see shades of grey as unfortunate since it is inevitable as society evolves. What makes libertarianism superior is that ambiguity is less prevalent and harmful in a libertarian context than any other.

    This thread is a good example of a shade of grey mitigated by a fruitful libertarian discussion — mitigated but not eliminated.

  • guy herbert


    Nor was this a fluke: subsequent studies have produced the same result.

    Care to cite any? Exactly the same, with no refinement? Its a large and implausible claim, and I’d like to know something about the method of the study, and the conditions under which the observations were made.

    Since individuals vary widely in their alcohol tolerance, we’d need to know something about distribution too, before we founded a policy on such an idea.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Well Paul, I guess you do have a good point here. If a privately-owned toll road stipulated that drinking was 100 pct banned then obviously drinkers would be imposing a potential liability on their peers and be justifiably hammered in the consequence. With state-owned roads it is a little different since I assume you are not arguing that whatever the state says is okay (sorry if this sounds like I am nitpicking).

    But……I would go back to my original point that this story demonstrates, I think the strange priorities of law enforcement at a time when there are, I would have thought, rather bigger fish for them to fry then the odd dumbass potsmoker behind the wheel.

  • Paul Coulam


    I am of course teasing, but only a little bit. ‘Shades of grey’ seems to me to be one of those cliches that people trot out to gloss over the fact that they don’t want to make the effort to think that little bit harder and look for the right answer.

    Often things that seem irresoluable are only apparently so and it is a cop out to give up looking for the right answer and declare that there are ‘shades of grey’ when one is foxed by a particular paradox. Declaring ‘shades of grey’ is a lazy and anti-intellectual habit and we do best to avoid it.

    Also there is nothing in the slightest oymoronic about ‘correct ideology’. You seem to think that ideology is intrinsically pejorative, another lazy and anti-intellectual cliche.

  • Paul Coulam


    Nothing I like better than nitpicking. It is through picking the philosophical nits that we often clarify more important points or spot the fatal flaw in a seemingly plausible idea.

    You are right that the problem arises from the state monopoly in road management, a market would be better of course. You are also right that any old mad rule imposed by the state will not count. To the extent that we are stuck with a monopoly in state road management the best we can do is urge it to try and mimic the kind of management we would have on a market.

    Obviously this could only ever be a poor simulacrum of the real thing but using this rule of thumb helps us, as libertarians, to spot and criticize any obviously outrageous rules not in the consumers interests.

    Mobile phone prohibitions are not, however, obviously outrageous and may be reasonably expected to arise on the market. Then given that they are not outrageous and that these are the extant rules then breaking them is an imposition on other road users.

    The Sean Gabb idea, that we can legitimately drink ourselves stupid and then drive down the wrong side of the road so long as we don’t actually hit or kill anyone is to mistake liberty for licence.

  • Alex

    It is a fallacy to say mobile phone use doesn’t lead to dangerous erratic driving. I used to drive a few hundred miles a day on the uks road network, I lost count of the number of times some fool using a mobile phone nearly crashed into me whilst weaving across the road.

    If one of them had and i was say crippled for life, paying me restituiton would not change the fact i couldn’t walk and had to pee in a bag. Id prefer that they had never taken that important call!

  • Paul,
    Thanks for the retort. I agree that many of us have become intellectually lazy and must guard against that.

    It seems you and I are cut from the same cloth, but err on different sides. I am a communicator by education and trade and thus address debate as a persuasion medium. As such, I have a knee-jerk any word that can be construed as pejorative.

    You’ve defended your word choice well. I just try to avoid that need to defend by choosing more palatable words. Of course that means I must redouble my efforts to avoid lazy arguments.

  • James Nicola: that’s ‘How to drive fast on drugs while getting your wing-wang squeezed and not spill your drink’, in which the author advances the thesis that the fastest car on earth is not a dragster or a Formula One racecar, but a rental car. P. J. O’Rourke (PBUH) from the glory days of National Lampoon.

  • Nick Timms

    David Amon your example of a person firing a gun indiscriminately in a public place who does not actually cause harm is misleading.

    Many people drive whilst under the influence of some drug or other and do not cause anyone harm. Nevertheless I drive defensively at all times – I drive about 25,000 mile a year in the UK and have done for the last 10 years or so. I try to anticipate and avoid situations that might cause me, or my family, harm. If I was unfortunate enough to be unable to avoid an accident caused by someone under the influence of drugs I would want the person to suffer financially and physically (I believe that corporal punishment can be effective through personal experience)

    Were I in a public place and someone started shooting indiscriminately I would immediately seek cover and hope that someone would shoot the bastard dead as soon as posible. Were I, as a UK citizen, permitted to own and carry a weapon, I hope I would have the courage – and skill – to shoot the bastard dead myself.

    None of the above changes my view that taking drugs and driving is stupid but should not be punishable unless the person actually causes harm. This is an action that might cause harm. Firing a gun in a public place is an action that is very likely to cause harm.

    My contention is that if the punishment for causing harm through making a stupid choice, were sufficiently strong, and enforced, the number of such events would drop because the penalties would be a sufficient deterrent. Not completely, but who can make life ‘safe’?

    A person firing a gun in a public place is not someone behaving irresponsibly, they are nutters and deserve to die.

  • Uain

    All of life deals with probability. The idea that some one should be able to drive whilst high, drunk, etc. but only get in trouble if they cause harm is ridiculous. Maybe one may drive 100 times high/ drunk until causing an accident but if some one else gets paralyzed (the inpaired driver rarely gets hurt), then for them it was 100% pain and injury or worse. Your view seems more narcissistic and less than libertarian.

  • Nick Timms

    Narcissistic? In love with myself because I believe people should be punished when they harm others and not just because they might harm others? Strange reasoning!

  • Ryan Waxx

    No, the reasoning *isn’t* strange at all. As noted earlier in the thread, that kind of reasoning is the underpinning of the legal concept of negligence.

    I humbly submit that people who can’t understand a simple idea like negligence, are the ones who are being ‘strange’, not the reverse.

  • well stated Ryan. What constitutes negligence is a resonable argument — denying its relevance is not.

  • Anonymous

    It seems arbitary at what point something that ‘might’ occur should be stopped. You can say it is when it is ‘likely’ – but what exactly does that mean? Where is likely?

    If it was ‘likely’ that taking a certain drug caused you to leave your private property, drive and kill someone – would it be illegal to do that without some form of preventive measure (restraining yourself, for instance)?

    The idea of punishing just for what has happened is ok assuming people care about the punishment. But if you have some crazed individual going about trying to shoot people, but gets caught each time, it seems rather strange to release them. But maybe that is a worthwile price for reducing state power.

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