Legal marijuana may improve roadway safety

By Julie Patterson,

WCL News —With Illinois becoming the 20th medical marijuana state in 2013 and broader legalization on the forefront of US news, data is being studied that explores what effects the drug may have on communities as a whole, with some surprising results. Analysts of health related behavior  claim that in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, road fatalities experience a dip in numbers, from around 11% in the first year of legalization. This could be good news for the states that are pressing for medical legalization laws to be passed.

The team of economists is careful about their claims, stressing that due diligence should always be taken when driving and that no one should drive under the influence of drink or drugs, however, these findings are more significant in revealing the effects of marijuana on society as a whole.

The Study

Led by Daniel Rees, an economist at the University of Colorado, the team decided to explore the area of traffic fatalities closely, as other studies have focused on crime and the number of visits to hospital through drug use. The data they compiled about traffic accidents was drawn from different states and compiled using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Numbers were studied, with the economists looking particularly closely at how traffic deaths have been affected by state laws being passed for medical marijuana use, as well as the factor of states lowering blood alcohol limits. Other sources used for the study, which is the first of its kind, included the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, National Survey on Drug Use and Health and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Rees was surprised how little was known about the actual effects of legalizing marijuana across the states, and stated that using traffic fatalities was a good example of how to get to the heart of the issue, as the data is so comprehensive, and it showed whether alcohol was also a factor. Dr. Mark Anderson, assistant professor at Montana State University and co-author of the study, claimed that this study is particularly significant as traffic fatalities represent the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 34.

Traffic accidents and fatalities were studied nationwide and this included the 13 states that had legalized medical marijuana prior to 2009. The study also included three states that underwent legalization of medical use in the mid-2000s — Vermont, Rhode Island and Montana.

The Results

The results of the study show a 9% reduction in traffic fatalities as well as a 5% drop in the sales of beer. The findings are significant because they suggest that legalizing medical marijuana leads to a drop in alcohol consumption, particularly among young adults. In the 13 states that legalized the drug between 1990 and 2009, alcohol consumption was seen to go down among those 20 to 29 years old and this meant fewer road fatalities in these states. In the three states that legalized  in the mid-2000s, the use of the herb increased in two, but not among minors.

Drivers under the influence of alcohol have their reactions seriously impaired, leading to greater fatalities on the roads. They take more risks and are unaware of how their reactions are affected until it is too late. Marijuana users, by contrast, tend to avoid these same risks. The authors of the study warn that this may be because medical marijuana is generally used in private, but the findings are significant because of the impact on road safety and the social effects of the laws that have been passed so far across the US.

Teenage Addiction

Opponents of the legalization laws are concerned that teenagers will become addicted to marijuana, although the study does highlight that use among adults increases but that there are no figures in the data analyzed to show an increase in under age usage. This remains a topical debate across the US, with experts constantly changing their minds on the addiction properties of this drug. The one constant among the factors discussed is that marijuana is nowhere near as addictive as either alcohol or nicotine. Teens form these addictions easily, often due to peer pressure, but there is support available for these habit-forming stimulants, such as effective prescription drugs for young smokers to help them to stop. These work by affecting dopamine levels in the brain and addressing the feel good factor that nicotine produces. Daniel Rees claims that legalizing medical marijuana does not seem to lead to an increase in use among teenagers, as the data he collected for his study also addresses high school students across the  states where  medical use is legal.

Studies such as this are significant in driving legalization momentum as they continue to show beneficial findings for the effects of cannabis on health, on society and on the nation’s roads. — West Coast Leaf News Service

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