Study: Stoners Are Not Causing More Traffic Accidents

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Traffic fatalities are not surging in states where weed is now legal and the rate of traffic deaths actually dropped in most states after legalizing medical marijuana.

Researchers found that when states legalized medical marijuana, traffic fatalities dropped on average by 11 percent. Traffic deaths dropped by 12 percent among 25 to 44 year olds, the demographic with the largest amount of registered medical marijuana users, further shocking the researchers.

The study, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, analyzed 1.2 million traffic fatalities between 1985 and 2014 in the 28 states that have legalized medical marijuana since 1996, reports Reuters.

The results left the researchers somewhat mystified, who said no firm conclusions can be drawn on why legalizing a mind-altering substance would reduce traffic deaths. The lead author of the study called the results “totally unexpected.” The authors suggest that stoners might be more attune to their lack of sobriety than someone who has been drinking heavily, or that medical marijuana patients are spending less time out at bars, but note no definitive connections can be made.

The study mirrored the results of a similar research project in 2013 from The Journal of Law and Economics revealing an 8 to 11 percent average dropped in traffic deaths in the year after a state passed medical legalization, with smaller increases in the following years. California experienced a 16 percent drop in fatalities after medical marijuana was legalized in the first year, which then began to rise again in subsequent years. (RELATED: Legal Weed Has The Exact Effect On Teens Everyone Feared)

“Public safety doesn’t decrease with increased access to marijuana, rather it improves,” Benjamin Hansen, a lead author of the 2013 study, told Reuters.

Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Medical marijuana legalization passed in Florida with 71 percent support and also secured passage in Arkansas and North Dakota on Election Day. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Election Day.

It is unclear whether legalizing marijuana for recreational use will follow the same trends, and the study’s authors say more research is needed to understand the declines in traffic fatalities.

“We don’t know the public health consequences of those types of policy changes yet,” Hansen told Reuters.

A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests recreational marijuana is driving more young teens to smoke in states with legalization and may be normalizing pot use among young Americans.

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