More Evidence Medical Marijuana Reduces Traffic Fatalities

Studies show that despite the prevailing "wisdom" of prohibitionists, cannabis does not correlate with increased traffic deaths — they actually go down.

Alarmist nightmare scenarios of stoned motorists riding high and wreaking havoc on public safety in recreational and medical states have not materialized. On the contrary, a growing number of studies — including one recently conducted at Columbia University — suggest that states with decriminalized medical marijuana experience a reduction in the number of traffic fatalities.


Medical marijuana is available in some form to more than half of Americans. You will notice that the sky has not fallen, and society has not devolved into a gang of benumbed zombies — though if it does, it isn’t marijuana’s fault, most legal states voted blue.

And despite dire predictions from some “experts,” medical cannabis has not created chaos on the country’s roads and highways. In fact, quite the opposite: according to a new study, traffic fatalities decreased in several states after medical cannabis was legalized.

Reuters picked up on the work led by a researcher from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As per the study, traffic deaths dropped an average of 11 percent in states where medical marijuana was available.

Among 25-to-44-year-olds, the demographic which uses medical marijuana the most, the decrease was even more pronounced—12 percent, the study found.

Those results were “totally unexpected,” lead author Julian Santaella-Tenorio told the wire service—but they shouldn’t have been. They echo the findings of an earlier study published in 2013, which found a decrease in traffic fatalities of between 8 to 11 percent in states that legalized medical marijuana. And there’s a larger body of evidence supporting this.

The study makes no guesses as to why this is happening, but experts have a few theories, ranging from a decrease in the use of opiates or alcohol where cannabis is available to marijuana users being aware of their intoxication and taking fewer risks while driving—or not driving at all. If you remember anything from high-school health class, you may recall that alcohol users tend to take more risks and are less aware of their impairment.

Study authors also made note of an interesting trend—a sharp decrease in traffic deaths where medical marijuana is available, followed by a gradual increase. Both California and New Mexico recorded a double-digit drop in traffic fatalities following medical marijuana’s legalization, followed by a slight increase from there.

Another data point lacking is exactly how many drivers involved in fatal accidents were stoned—because there’s no acceptable standard for determining intoxication.

In both Colorado and Washington, drivers can be arrested and charged with DUI if they have a level of THC metabolites in their blood of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of higher—but whether that threshold actually indicates intoxication or impairment is up for debate.

Remember, marijuana is fat soluble and remains present after its effects have worn off, unlike alcohol, which is water soluble—meaning if it’s in you, it’s affecting your brain and body.

It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Never drive stoned. If you’re high, you’re impaired, and if you’re impaired, you’re a hazard—and you could be docked with a DUI besides. 

But if you want to live in a state where the roads are safer, you could do worse than working to legalize medical marijuana.

TELL US, why do you think traffic fatalities go down in MMJ states?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

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