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Traffic Fatality Rates are Down in States with Medical Marijuana

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A major concern in the last few years since legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis have taken hold in multiple states is the risk to those on the roadways. While there are companies out there trying to figure out the best way to make a cannabis breathalyzer, and even one that’s already hit the streets in California there is currently no way to determine how impaired a person actually is by marijuana, unlike alcohol where blood-alcohol content is relatively clear in most cases.

Along with hoping to find out how to measure impairment, there are researchers who have been working to determine how marijuana impacts driving. Back in March there was a study released that determined that many stoned drivers will drive at lower speeds and leave more room between them and other cars to compensate, clearly aware that they are impaired. A more recent study now suggests that states that have legalized medical marijuana are seeing an average 11% decrease in traffic fatalities, with the biggest reduction in the 25-44 age group and the least reduction in the 45 and older age group.

“It is also possible that states with medical marijuana laws and lower traffic fatality rates may be related to lower levels of alcohol-impaired driving behavior in these states,” noted Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Mailman School and senior author. “We found evidence that states with the marijuana laws in place compared with those which did not, reported, on average, lower rates of drivers endorsing driving after having too many drinks. We can also point to other characteristics such as the strength of public health laws related to driving, infrastructure characteristics, or the quality of health care systems, as a partial explanation for these findings.”

The reason for the correlation is not exactly determined – however there are multiple theories as to why this is the case. The study analyzed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data regarding traffic fatalities from 1985 (11 years prior to California legalizing medical marijuana) to 2014 and researchers made sure that they took things such as speed limits, laws enforcing safety like seatbelts and using cellphones while driving, as well as unemployment rates and median household income into consideration. Overall there was a drop in fatalities in states that have implemented medical marijuana laws, though there was not a decrease in every state.

While most states continue to see reduced fatalities after legalization, California and New Mexico, who both saw a significant drop in traffic related deaths in the first few years after legalization, have actually seen an increase in more recent years. However, this does not necessarily suggest that in the long-term it will cause more issues as there could be many other factors at play causing the increase. Research like this only goes to show that so far, the risk to the roadways after legalization is not necessarily as scary as people (mainly those with an anti-legalization agenda) are making it seem like it is.

1 COMMENT

  1. “Traffic Fatality Rates are Down in States with Medical Marijuana”

    LOL….!! Of course!! Now, all those people who used to get plowed at their local bars are smoking pot instead, and later finding their way home by driving 5 miles per hour down the center of the median!