Law Office of David L. Scott

States with Medical Marijuana Laws Report Lower Traffic Fatality Rates

Could there be a connection between medical marijuana laws and lowered risk of traffic fatalities?

It has often been asserted that the legalization of medical marijuana would threaten public health in ways such as increased roadway fatalities. Recently published research, however, proves the opposite. In a study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, researchers found, on average, an 11 percent reduction in traffic fatalities when looking at states that have medical marijuana laws in place. The study analyzed 1.2 million traffic fatalities across the country from 1985 through 2014.

The study, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, also found a correlation was also found between states with medical marijuana dispensaries and a reduction in traffic fatalities. The study’s senior author, Silvia Martins, says this may be due to people, especially those younger in age, using weed as a preferred alternative to consuming alcohol.

Past research which led to public safety concerns when debating the legalization of medical marijuana revealed that marijuana use could cause drivers to weave in traffic more and have slower reaction times. These side effects are also associated with alcohol use. Research also found, however, that marijuana use caused drivers to reduce spread and increase the distance between themselves and other vehicles. These are not symptoms generally associated with drinking and could explain why, as Martins suggested, the reduction in traffic fatalities could stem from use of marijuana over alcohol.

The study showed that the largest drop in traffic fatality rates in medical-marijuana states occurred with drivers ages 15-44. Researchers caution that not all states with medical-marijuana laws experienced declined in traffic fatalities. California saw an initial reduction of 16 percent, but then saw gradual increases in traffic fatality rates.

23 states and the district of Columbia currently have medical marijuana laws. The Columbia University study, however, may reignite the medical marijuana debate in other states leading to further passage of medical marijuana legislation. Additionally, this is not the first study to show these kinds of results. In 2013, The Journal of Law and Economics published a study that showed an 8 to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in 19 states during the first full year post-legalization of medical marijuana. The mounting data could lead to other states joining in the trend and legalizing medical marijuana.

Marijuana laws are at the center of heated legal debates across the country. Studies such as those discussed above lead lawmakers to evaluate the current state of legislation and push for change. In the meantime, it is important to note that not all states have moved very far in the legalization of medical marijuana or in other areas such as decriminalizing marijuana possession. Possession of marijuana can still carry serious consequences and, if you are facing a possession charge, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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