Has Legal Marijuana Caused an Increase or Decrease in Traffic Accidents and Deaths?

There are many studies currently underway with regard to the implications of legalized marijuana. For years it was taken for granted that marijuana was an illegal and therefore immoral substance, and it was associated with degeneracy and crime. However, practically every study conducted on marijuana has found it to have numerous beneficial effects. The main criticism against marijuana are that it decreases motivation and concentration. This is true and it may be a worry for young adults who consume the plant in excess. But the advantages are staggering and some studies actually show that it increases concentration under certain circumstances.

Marijuana and Decreased Traffic Deaths

One surprising side effect of cannabis legalization is that it results in a decrease in the number of traffic deaths. A number of recent studies have shown this to be the case. Again, there has historically been a common misconception about cannabis which states that increased legalization of weed results in more traffic accidents and deaths. A new study has found the opposite to be the case. Past studies on smaller data sets had indicated that marijuana legalization increased the number of accidents and fatalities. But this study analyzed 1.2 million traffic fatalities across the nation from 1985 to 2014. There was a 11% reduction on average when weed was legal, and the main reduction was in those aged between 25 to 44, an age group with a large number of cannabis smokers compared to other groups. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

This study mirrors the finding of a previous study in 2013 and has been published in The Journal of Law and Economics. The study looked at data from 19 states and showed an 8-11% decrease in the states that had legalized weed.

The findings are more or less consistent. In California, traffic deaths were reduced by 16% immediately following the legalization of medical weed. The same trend was noted in New Mexico, with a reduction of 17% in traffic fatalities. However, while the decrease was immediate it tended to rise gradually as the years went by. While road accidents improved in the majority of states, in Rhode Island and Connecticut the number of fatalities rose. It is not yet understood why this is the case in these particular states, but could have something to do with how the laws are enacted at the county level.

How Does Marijuana Decrease Road Accidents?

It is not currently known why marijuana legalization results in a decrease in traffic fatalities. Some say that it is a gateway drug to sobriety, in that users of opioids and other extreme substances can taper off with the help of marijuana. This groups of addicts are typically associated with increased road accidents and fatalities.

The study authors believe that it may be due to the fact that consumers substitute marijuana at home for alcohol in bars, which is where the majority of road accidents stem from. Others suggest that it could be from the increased police presence following the enactment of marijuana laws. Unfortunately, there are an infinite number of things that could be attributed to the reduction of road fatalities and traffic accidents, unfortunately no study has found a definitive link as to why marijuana legalization results in better road statistics.The most likely and popular contention is that marijuana legalization helps to decrease the number of alcohol related accidents, and the implication of this is that marijuana is better in terms of road safety than alcohol.

All the studies have to do with the legalization of medical marijuana, as there is not enough data at present to account for recreational marijuana related traffic incidents. Some argue that following marijuana legalization there is an increase in the number of marijuana related traffic accidents. And this is obviously going to be true, as more people are smoking marijuana. In Washington, the number doubled. The important statistic is that overall the number of incidents goes down across the board when all variables are considered. And this shows that marijuana is a safer drug in terms of road fatalities than other drugs, as even if weed related crashes went up, the total figure went goes following legalization. States without any medical marijuana legalization had a 26% higher rate of road accidents. This is a significant figure.

Good Signs

The fact that weed legalization leads to a reduction in road fatalities is yet another positive sign. Other studies have shown that shutting down medical weed dispensaries leads to an increase in crime in the surrounding area, potentially costing up to $30,000 per dispensary. And the numerous health studies speak for themselves. weed saves lives, reduces crimes, increases wealth, treats disease and increases the health and wellbeing of citizens.

There is currently no way for police officers to test people on whether or not they are high on cannabis while driving. It is presently illegal, and there are a number of difficulties in developing an appropriate method. This is because THC has subjective effects and it is hard to gauge what is an appropriate limit, and THC levels drop quite quickly in the time it takes to issue a warrant and administer a test. When a testing method is devised it could lead to a further reduction in road accidents and fatalities following marijuana legalization.

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