ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez comes an answer to this question: Would a state full of legal pot smokers make driving in California any more hazardous than it already is? Lopez wrote a column on Sunday about the offer that he got from the city attorney of Los Angeles, Carmen Trutanich. Trutanich opposes Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana. The offer was to go to the police training center, get high and then get behind the wheel.
Steve Lopez, that is a very unusual invitation to receive from law enforcement.
Mr. STEVE LOPEZ (Columnist, Los Angeles Times): Yes. And I thought in the public interest I've got to take a hit here for science.
SIEGEL: Take a hit. We should say that you have a medical marijuana card, which makes it legal for you to get a prescription for marijuana in California.
Mr. LOPEZ: Yes, and extremely difficult to come by.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: Yeah, right.
Mr. LOPEZ: I Googled a medical marijuana doctor, went to him and noticed as I walked in that there was no medical equipment other than a blood pressure cuff, which he didn't use. And I said, I had lower back pain. And he, without even looking, said I don't know anything about back pain. I'm a gynecologist. And I had my marijuana recommendation card a few minutes later. And I was good for a year.
SIEGEL: So, obviously, Mr. Trutanich was aware of this. He had written a column about it. And the invitation was to see whether Proposition 19, which you have supported, I gather, whether it would have any affect on driving around California.
Mr. LOPEZ: You know, he said that there isn't much scientific research. I think there certainly has been a little bit. But he wanted to see firsthand what would happen if somebody completely sober showed up and took a few hits. And it was all pretty strange. You know, here I am in the company of police officers and members of the California Highway Patrol, the CHP, and I had some buds called train wreck, which the cops thought was quite amusing. And I was escorted up to a little bluff and told to spark up, which I did. And I begin to wonder if any of this was really happening.
SIEGEL: I see. And then eventually was it a set course that you had to drive through?
Mr. LOPEZ: You know, they have a number of sort of obstacles. They've got cones set up and you drive through a slalom. And they've got some tight parking quarters that you've got to negotiate. And the toughest one is you're driving down this center lane approaching a three-lane intersection and each of those lanes has a traffic signal. And all the lights are green. But at the last second, they switch them so that only one is green and two are red and you got to make a quick maneuver.
And so I did all of this, of course, first while sober in a marked CHP unit. Then got high and came back to see if it was harder this time.
SIEGEL: And was it harder?
Mr. LOPEZ: Well, I got a pretty good buzz on, I have to tell you. And, you know, I was giddy. The first thing I can tell you is that you're prone to do silly things. When I first got behind the wheel, I hit the gas in the direction of the cluster of police officers who jumped, ready to scatter. And then I blew the horn. I thought everything was hilarious. In retrospect it probably wasn't.
But when I did the slalom, when I did the parking, I wasn't as sharp as I was. I was a little slower and more hesitant. When I went to the lights, I had trouble. And I found that having to process a lot of information in a hurry and making a quick decision can be difficult. And I hit the cones and I went off the road a little bit, and that didn't work so well.
I will say that I didn't feel as impaired as I might have been had I had, let's say, a few beers or a few glasses of wine.
SIEGEL: So your experience might be sighted as evidence against driving while stoned, but not necessarily, you're saying, an argument against Proposition 19?
Mr. LOPEZ: Well, people can interpret it as they want. It's not difficult to get weed. My concern now is that if we legalize it and the price drops dramatically and we have a lot of first time users out there who think they can handle it, I'm not so sure that that's true. So I'm a little more concerned than I was before this experiment.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks for talking with us about it.
Mr. LOPEZ: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: That's Steve Lopez and this is the subject of his column today in the Los Angeles Times.
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