Studies in a number of states where marijuana has been legalized show that traffic fatalities have fallen by as much as 11%, and these states have a 26% lower rate of traffic fatalities compared to states where cannabis is still illegal.
A major study conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health looked at records going back as far as 1985 and compared the amount of traffic related deaths in the years prior to legalization with those after, and what they found might shock some.
Dr. Silvia Martins, an associate professor at Columbia and one of the authors of the study, said that her findings show “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,” and that they uncovered “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”
Benjamin Hansen, who was involved in a similar study in 2013 that was published in the Journal of Law and Economics, found almost identical results when he looked at 19 states that approved legalization. In a summary of his report, he told Reuters that “public safety doesn’t decrease with increased access to marijuana, rather it improves.” Unfortunately, however, the reports do not show any decrease in some legalized states, such as California or New Mexico, but it does represent a good foundation and shows that in the majority of places it has been found to have a positive relation with driver safety. It should be noted, however, that even in these places, there was an immediate reduction in fatalities (16% in California and 17.5% in New Mexico), but these quickly returned to normal rates in a short time.
“These findings provide evidence of the heterogeneity of medical marijuana laws and indicate the need for further research on the particularities of implementing the laws at the local level” researcher Julian Santaella-Tenorio, who worked on the Columbia study, mentioned.
Alcohol was a major factor in many of the road deaths in the states observed by both reports, and accounted for a whopping 47% of all fatal accidents involving drivers between the ages of 25 and 44 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Accordingly, this is the same group that also had the largest drop in fatal accidents post-legalization. One explanation for the drop in road fatalities after the introduction of legal marijuana is that the drivers opt for its use over alcohol, and therefore may be more aware of their condition and may choose to operate a vehicle accordingly.
The findings absolutely do not condone driving while high in any way, but they do lay out the foundations for future research and a strong argument against those who believe that legalization will cause a public health crisis. Not just that, but if legalization can help to chip away at the epidemic that is drunk driving that plagues this country, then that is just one more bullet in the pro-green camp that can be used, and one more argument against those who seek to stop at nothing to make sure that marijuana is kept out of the hands of Americans.