Study: Legal medical marijuana cuts traffic deaths

A new study by Colorado-based researchers suggests a link between the legalization of medical marijuana and a drop in traffic deaths.

Beer consumption also down in states that have legalized medical cannabis use

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new study out of the University of Colorado Denver suggests traffic deaths have dropped 9 percent and beer sales have declined by 5 percent in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.

The in-depth analysis of 13 states that legalized medical marijuana between 1990 and 2009 also indicates that marijuana consumption among minors did not increase as a result of the legalization of medical marijuana. Alcohol consumption by 20- to 29-year-olds went down in the states that legalized medical cannabis, resulting in fewer deaths on the road. The study is online here.

“Our research suggests that the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities through reducing alcohol consumption by young adults,” said Daniel Rees, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver who co-authored the study with D. Mark Anderson, assistant professor of economics at Montana State University.

The researchers collected data from a variety of sources including the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The study is the first to examine the relationship between the legalization of medical marijuana and traffic deaths.

“We were astounded by how little is known about the effects of legalizing medical marijuana,” Rees said. “We looked into traffic fatalities because there is good data, and the data allow us to test whether alcohol was a factor.”

Anderson noted that traffic deaths are significant from a policy standpoint.

“Traffic fatalities are an important outcome from a policy perspective because they represent the leading cause of death among Americans ages five to 34,” he said.

The economists analyzed traffic fatalities nationwide,  explaining that simulator studies conducted by previous researchers suggest that drivers under the influence of alcohol tend to underestimate how badly their skills are impaired. They drive faster and take more risks.

In contrast, these studies show that drivers under the influence of marijuana tend to avoid risks. However, Rees and Anderson cautioned that legalization of medical marijuana may result in fewer traffic deaths because it’s typically used in private, while alcohol is often consumed at bars and restaurants.

“I think this is a very timely study given all the medical marijuana laws being passed or under consideration,” Anderson said. “These policies have not been research-based thus far and our research shows some of the social effects of these laws. Our results suggest a direct link between marijuana and alcohol consumption.”

The study also examined marijuana use in three states that legalized medical marijuana in the mid-2000s, Montana, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Marijuana use by adults increased after legalization in Montana and Rhode Island, but not in Vermont. There was no evidence that marijuana use by minors increased.

Opponents of medical marijuana believe that legalization leads to increased use of marijuana by minors.

According to Rees and Anderson, the majority of registered medical marijuana patients in Arizona and Colorado are male. In Arizona, 75 percent of registered patients are male; in Colorado, 68 percent are male. Many are under the age of 40. For instance, 48 percent of registered patients in Montana are under 40.

“Although we make no policy recommendations, it certainly appears as though medical marijuana laws are making our highways safer,” Rees said.


5 thoughts on “Study: Legal medical marijuana cuts traffic deaths

  1. An appeal to all Prohibitionists:

    Most of us are aware by now that individuals who use illegal drugs are going to get high, ‘no matter what.’ So why do you not prefer they acquire them in stores that check IDs and pay taxes? Gifting the market in narcotics to ruthless criminals, foreign terrorists and corrupt law enforcement officials is seriously compromising our future. If you remotely believe that people will one day quit using any of these ‘at present’ illegal drugs, then you are exhibiting a degree of naivety parallel only with those poor deluded wretches who voluntarily drank the poisoned Kool-Aid in Jonestown.

    Even if you cannot stand the thought of people using drugs, there is absolutely nothing you, or any government, can do to stop them. We have spent 40 years and over a trillion dollars on this dangerous farce. Practically everybody is now aware that Prohibition will not suddenly and miraculously start showing different results. So why do you wish to continue with a policy that has proven itself to be a poison in the veins of our once so proud & free nation? Do you actually think you may have something to lose If we were to start basing drug policy on science & logic instead of ignorance, hate and lies?

    Maybe you’re a police officer, a prison guard or a local politician. Possibly you’re scared of losing employment, overtime-pay, the many kick-backs and those regular fat bribes. But what good will any of that do you once our society has followed Mexico over the dystopian abyss of dismembered bodies, vats of acid and marauding thugs carrying gold-plated AK-47s with leopard-skinned gunstocks?

    Kindly allow us to forgo the next level of your sycophantic prohibition-engendered mayhem.

    Prohibition Prevents Regulation : Legalize, Regulate and Tax!

  2. Our federal government has done just about everything they can to obstruct research and acceptance of marijuana. From lies and deception to simply ignoring science, there seems to be something hidden in the background that is driving the suppression of marijuana legalization by our governmant. It really does not matter anyways. The People want legal cannabis and regardless of what our lame ass government does the People will prevail. The Feds will do all it can to slow it down but it will not matter in the end. The latest poll says 50% favor legalization. Next year it will be 60% and the next 70% and so on. It cannot be easy, in the internet age, to create support for an issue by spouting continued lies and ignorance. The enforcement cartels will tumble. Truth always wins, simple as that. Long live the truth. Legalize marijuana and alcohol sales will plummit, traffic accidents will plummit. America wants a choice. The alcohol industry has had a monopoly for too long. Could they be the force behind keeping pot illegal? Gasp!

  3. This is only surprising if you haven’t been paying attention. It’s simply a fact that cannabis impairment is much, MUCH less dangerous than alcohol impairment. Having a B.A.C. of 0.08 (i.e. right at the legal limit for driving) increases your risk of an accident 11-fold. (And driving while texting evidently increases your risk of an accident 23-fold. Take the Oprah pledge!) In contrast, there was a recent study that purported to show that cannabis use made you 2.7 times more likely to be involved in an accident. (Of course, the headlines breathlessly reported that marijuana “more than doubles” your risk of an accident – without giving any of the above context.) It’s also known that alcohol, as a disinhibitor, INCREASES risk-taking behavior. People who are impaired by alcohol frequently don’t recognize their own impairment and often drive FASTER while under the influence, which is one of the reasons that accidents caused by alcohol impairment so often result in fatalities. People who relax with cannabis are much more likely to recognize their own impairment and either refuse to drive or adequately compensate for their impairment. (This has been demonstrated in simulator studies.) The fact is that alcohol is a HUGE contributor to vehicle accident fatalities and cannabis use just isn’t. And, as the articles notes, alcohol and cannabis are SUBSTITUTES. I’ve talked to many, many people who have reported that their alcohol consumption dropped dramatically after they began enjoying cannabis. (It certainly tracks my own experience.) And not only is cannabis far safer from a driving perspective, it’s infinitely safer than alcohol by EVERY objective measure. Cannabis is non-toxic. It’s literally impossible to fatally overdose on cannabis. Alcohol is most definitely toxic. People can and do die from alcohol overdose. Alcohol abuse is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. (It turns out that drinking poison isn’t good for you.) In contrast, cannabis use is not associated with increased mortality. Alcohol is physically addictive. You can be so addicted to alcohol that you will literally die from withdrawal. Cannabis isn’t. If you want to talk about “psychological addiction,” be my guest, but let’s all at least acknowledge that there’s no cannabis equivalent of delirium tremens. And (I think most importantly) alcohol is a MASSIVE contributor to violence. It’s involved in something like half of all violent crimes and 70% of domestic abuse cases. In contrast, cannabis use has never been linked to violence. If anything, it DECREASES the risk of violence by pacifying the user. While they can be overstated, there’s a reason we have the stereotypes of the “belligerent drunk” and the “mellow stoner.” I know which one I prefer to be around. But hey, I’m just a stupid “pothead.” What do I know? Maybe the prohibitionists are right. Maybe we SHOULD be spending billions of dollars every year in borrowed money to lock non-violent people in government cages for the “crime” of possessing dried plant matter.

  4. Good for you Bob, providing the above story to your avid readers, this Sunday morning. It does make me wonder why “Beer” isn’t classified a class one drug, in fact all alcohol?

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