Legalization of Recreational Cannabis Markets Linked To Increase in Traffic Deaths

Cannabis Dispensary

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant. It has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for centuries, and its legality varies by country and jurisdiction. When consumed, cannabis can produce a range of effects, including altered perception, increased appetite, and relaxation. However, its use also carries potential risks, such as impaired cognitive function and increased risk of addiction.

A recent study has analyzed the mortality rates across seven states that have recreational cannabis dispensaries.

The University of Illinois Chicago has conducted a new study that utilized death certificate data to compare the death rates between states that have legalized recreational cannabis dispensaries and those that only offer access to medical cannabis.

The researchers discovered a significant rise in car crash fatalities in four out of the seven states included in the study where recreational cannabis markets were legalized. On average, the presence of recreational markets correlated with a 10% increase in fatalities from motor vehicle accidents.

Study first author Samantha Marinello said the findings suggest that it may be beneficial for states with legal recreational cannabis to invest in policies and public health initiatives to mitigate this potential harm and build awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence.

“To see a 10% increase in motor vehicle accident deaths associated with recreational markets is concerning. Previous studies have found cannabis impairs driving ability and that driving while high is fairly common among regular cannabis users,” said Marinello, a postdoctoral research associate with the division of health policy and administration at the UIC School of Public Health.

For the analysis, Marinello and Lisa Powell, UIC distinguished professor and director of the division, focused on seven states that implemented legal recreational cannabis markets: Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. They collected data from death certificates from 2009-2019 on deaths in three areas that have previously been linked to cannabis use but are still poorly understood: motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and opioid overdose.

For each cause of death, the researchers compared trends in deaths in states with legal markets with those in states that had comprehensive medical cannabis programs and similar trends in death rates prior to implementing markets.

“We didn’t want to compare states with very different mortality trends or social ideology, so we looked at each state and outcome and identified comparison states with existing medical cannabis programs and with similar pre-trends to conduct our analysis,” Marinello said.

The data revealed significant increases in crash fatalities in Colorado (16%), Oregon (22%), Alaska (20%), and California (14%).

“The results suggest that a potential unintended consequence of recreational markets is increased cannabis-intoxicated driving and crash deaths, and, hence, a potential need for policies focused on reducing driving under the influence of cannabis,” the authors write.

The researchers found no evidence that recreational markets impacted suicides, which is notable because cannabis use is associated with the development of depressive disorders and suicidality.

For opioid overdose deaths, recreational markets were associated with an 11% reduction in fatalities, on average. Across all seven states, the reduction ranged from 3% to 28%.

Marinello said that the reduction in opioid overdose fatalities is another potential area of impact that should be a factor in states considering legalization.

“This study provides evidence of both potential benefits and harms that policymakers should consider when legalizing recreational cannabis markets,” Marinello said.

Reference: “The impact of recreational cannabis markets on motor vehicle accident, suicide, and opioid overdose fatalities” by Samantha Marinello and Lisa M. Powell, 16 January 2023, Social Science & Medicine.
DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.115680

12 Comments on "Legalization of Recreational Cannabis Markets Linked To Increase in Traffic Deaths"

  1. What has actually occurred in states that have legalized cannabis is that law enforcement agencies statewide immediately and vigorously began a new policy of testing more drivers than they ever did before legalization occurred for residual trace amounts of THC. Which remain detectable in a driver’s system for up to months after consuming cannabis.

    This obviously in no way proves actual impairment at the time a driver is pulled over. So for instance, the police get to the scene of a roadside accident with a fatality. The driver at fault, is let’s say for example three times over the legal alcohol BAC limit, but the police also insist on a test for cannabis. Although bear in mind, with a BAC three times over the legal limit for booze and with all the obvious tell-tale signs of impairment, it’s plain for all to immediately see, and know, that alcohol was the drug responsible for this tragedy….

    Residual trace amounts of THC are detected in the driver’s system after the police conclude their very specific and intentional policy driven test for those residual trace amounts of THC. A month prior to being pulled over, the driver consumed a little cannabis socially with friends…

    Obviously, the joint or two from a month ago had nothing to do with this fatal and tragic accident, but the booze the driver drank at the bar before he got into his car that very same night most certainly did.

    Law enforcement now marks off this accident as another cannabis “INVOLVED” fatality in order to bolster their bogus statistics.

    Prohibitionists always use terms like “INVOLVED” , “RELATED” or “LINKED” when they tout these horrific sounding statistics and claims. Because they can’t ever prove cannabis impairment alone to be the actual “CAUSE”.

    In states that have now legalized cannabis, when you get into an accident whether at fault or not at fault even, pulled over for speeding or for anything at all, law enforcement policy will automatically also require that the police administer that very same test for residual trace amounts of THC from up to months prior to being pulled over. Which again, in no way proves impairment whatsoever and then the results are added on as just another one of their bogus cannabis “INVOLVED/RELATED”/LINKED” statistics.

    This is nothing more than merely another prohibitionist scare tactic. The goal being to frighten and alarm the public back into the strict prohibition of cannabis.

    Well guess what? The public isn’t buying it and everyone sees the deceit by ever more desperate prohibitionist zealots. Hell-bent on keeping cannabis illegal. So, the public is already well aware that when such claims are made about cannabis “INVOLVED/RELATED/LINKED” deaths, they are flat out lies!

    Nobody is so gullible as to believe these utterly nonsense prohibitionist claims of massive amounts of new cannabis impaired drivers.

    Now, I challenge all anti-cannabis prohibitionist types publicly yet again:

    Please provide us proof of just one single roadway fatality proven one hundred percent to have been “CAUSED” (Not “INVOLVED/ Not “RELATED”/Not “LINKED”) by cannabis impairment and only cannabis impairment, alone.

    The public is waiting for prohibitionists to provide indisputable proof of just one such death “CAUSED” directly and solely by cannabis impairment, alone. Just one. (Not even the massive influx prohibitionists claim. Just one.)

    We’ll wait….and wait…and wait….While we all know they simply can’t. Because it’s all just propaganda, lies, and scare-tactics.


  2. And booze doesn’t increase accidents? DUI is a DUI.

  3. From the article: “They collected data from death certificates from 2009-2019 on deaths in three areas that have previously been linked to cannabis use but are still poorly understood: motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and opioid overdose.”

    I would like to know exactly what criteria they used for these accidents that have been “linked to cannabis use but are still poorly understood”.

    Linked how? Was there a sack of weed in the glovebox that “linked cannabis” or perhaps some shake on the floorboard and a weed pipe that “linked cannabis to it? Or perhaps it was residual trace amounts of THC in a blood test that was from cannabis use a month prior to the incident?

    Since there is no way to actually prove cannabis impairment at the time of the accident, this study seems like they were just desperately looking to conjure up something negative to scare the public.

    I hope the president doesn’t try to use these lame fake AF “studies” as excuses not to legalize cannabis federally after the schedule review the president ordered in completed.

    • Same criteria as when the 92 year old patient with six types of stage-4 cancer coughed and ended up with “Died of Covid” on his papers.

  4. Correlation does not equal causation. Science fact.

  5. End Reefer Madness Yellow Journalism Now | March 28, 2023 at 10:36 pm | Reply

    Alcohol causes the most DUI accidents. Should we ban alcohol?

  6. Eric M. Jones | March 29, 2023 at 6:52 am | Reply

    Who doesn’t drink alcohol when doing a Doobie?
    What poor science! Scare tactics and blather.

  7. Red Sam Rackham | March 29, 2023 at 10:26 am | Reply

    If my MD prescribed medicinal marijuana I’d want it in edible brownie form since I will not smoke.

  8. From the actual study abstract that the link provided leads to:
    “Some limitations of these studies include potential confounding and the fact that testing positive for THC does not necessarily indicate driver impairment at the time of the accident.”

    So, THIS is the source of how the accidents and fatalities were “linked”, “related” or “involved’ with cannabis use…which means absolutely nothing, since they are testing for the metabolites from previous THC use – which can last for up to a month in the system.

    Another “Reefer Madness” propaganda attempt (and very sloppy scientific analysis) designed to convince people that marijuana should be illegal. I’d love to see where the funding for this study came from – most likely anti-drug or law enforcement groups…or the alcoholic beverage industry.

  9. Legalizing Cannabis will not create a massive influx of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

    It will not create an influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either.

    This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic.

    Truth: Responsible drivers don’t drive while impaired on any substance period!

    Irresponsible drivers are already on our roads, and they will drive while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

    Therefore, legalizing cannabis will have little impact on the amount of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

    The same thing applies to people being under the influence of cannabis on the job.

    Responsible people do not go to work impaired, period. Regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

  10. “Cannabis is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

    “Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

    “Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting Cannabis legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

    Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

    Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”

    “The report discovered that Cannabis is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, Cannabis had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—Cannabis is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”

  11. In science there is one iron rule: “Correlation Does Not Prove Causation.” Did you know that there is a 99.79% correlation between “US spending on science, space and technology” and “Suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation”? ( Look it up! See what other ridiculous correlations show that things are “linked,” to use the misleading term in the title of this article.

    Brian Kelly’s comments about the spurious “linking” of minuscule cannabis residues (leaching out of body fat stores) weeks after use and driving performance is right on. Cannabis may affect driving performance in acute-use situations but this study is not the way to address it.

    The authors of this study and the journal publishing it display poor professional judgement. SciTechDaily should apply better evaluative reporting of the defective premises shown in the original study.

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