There is no question that driving impaired or under the influence of any substance is unwise. Unquestionably, marijuana is known to contain compounds that can impede a person’s cognitive abilities and reflexes, which are imperative for driving safely. However, a new study reveals that the approval of medical marijuana is not met with an uptick in traffic fatalities, as many detractors for years insisted.
The study, published recently by the American Public Health Association, looked at at U.S. Traffic Fatalities from 1985 to 2014 in various states and compared their relationship to medical marijuana laws. Conducted by researchers at Colombia University, the University of California at Davis and Boston University, what they discovered was that traffic deaths fell in seven states where medical marijuana is legal and that, in general, states that had medical cannabis statutes tended to have reduced traffic fatality rates than states where the drug is strictly outlawed.
What’s more, researchers discovered that states with medical marijuana statutes had the impact of immediately lowering traffic deaths among younger cohorts. Specifically, those between the ages of 15 to 24 and 25 to 44 saw the most marked decreases during that time.Those between the ages of 25 to 44 saw gradual reductions every year thereafter.
As of this juncture, medical marijuana is lawful in 28 states. An increasing number of states – including California – have been approving the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
The researchers involved in this study analyzed decades’ worth of traffic data – about 1.2 million crashes in all. They looked at each state with legalized marijuana separately, focusing on the relationship between the pro-marijuana laws and the number of deadly crashes. They also looked at where medical marijuana dispensaries were open. In areas where medical marijuana dispensaries were accessible, the number of traffic fatalities among the 25 to 44 cohort was down.
In fact, the largest reduction of traffic deaths over the course of the study was seen in this group. So what does that mean? Researchers have a few theories.
The first is that individuals who are under the influence of marijuana tend to be more aware of their own condition of impairment than persons who are under the influence of alcohol. This may mean more frequently, those under the influence of marijuana choose not to drive.
The second conclusion is that a lot of people who are using the drug socially choose to do so at their own homes. After all, even in areas where the drug is legal for recreation, there are typically restrictions on where one can indulge. That means more people are going to stay at home than go out to the bars, which reduces the risk of driving impaired on the road.
Finally, areas that allow medical marijuana may preemptively have an increased law enforcement presence, which is going to result in fewer people venturing out on the roads while they are high.
The lead researcher explained these results were actually unexpected. They had anticipated at the start of the study to find a higher rate of traffic fatality in states that approved medical marijuana.
The findings did vary to some degree by state. For example, Connecticut and Rhode Island actually did see an uptick in deaths on the road after the legalization of marijuana. However in California and New Mexico, there were double-digit declines immediately after the drug was legalized, followed by gradual increases.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Study Links Medical Marijuana to Fewer Traffic Fatalities, Jan. 12, 2017, Entrepreneur.com
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Cannabis Surveillance Systems Are Growing Industry, Jan. 7, 2017, L.A. Marijuana Lawyer Blog