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States with Legalized Marijuana Suffer a Spike in Car Accidents and Traffic Deaths

August 12, 2022

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey - According to a new study, legalizing marijuana in the United States has led to a surge in motor vehicle accidents. The researchers reported that the number of fatal crashes increased by four percent in five states that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The study also reported that the number of accidents with injuries grew by almost six percent in states with legalized marijuana. The study states that U.S. states that have not legalized marijuana did not see a spike in accidents. Deadly accident rates increased by almost two percent once marijuana became legal and stores began selling cannabis.  

According to the study's lead researcher Charles Farmer, Ph.D., legalizing marijuana does not come without a cost in a media release published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Dr. Farmer also stated that legalization removed the stigma of using marijuana, and users who previously avoided driving while high will likely feel that it is okay now that marijuana is legal in their state. 

The study's team thinks the relationship between cannabis and crash injuries, instead of traffic fatalities, could be because some drivers will slow down while they drive a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. Motorists who operate a vehicle while high on marijuana may not avoid an accident at lower speeds, but the crashes may be less likely to be fatal. Earlier studies have shown marijuana use affects reaction time, lane keeping, road tracking, and driver attention.

Colorado, one of the first states to legalize marijuana, has seen the number of car wrecks increase after the state legalized marijuana. The Federal Highway Administration issued a study in 2019 stating that California, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, and Oregon all legalized recreational marijuana during the study period, while Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico, did not see accident rates increase. 

The study's authors modified their conclusions for factors that often contribute to crashes and deaths, such as the unemployment rate and seat belt use. Colorado saw the largest jump (+17.8%) in accidents leading to injury, and California saw the smallest of the states that legalized marijuana (+5.7%). Also, there were more fatal accidents that occurred in Colorado (+1.4%) and Oregon (+3.8%). 

Researchers reported that their study simply shows a correlation but does not definitively prove that legalizing marijuana is responsible for an increase in road accidents and traffic accident deaths. The study simply shows a direct causal link between driving while on marijuana use and crash risk. The study's results were published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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