Will Legalizing Pot Cause More Traffic Deaths?

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“Nationwide legalization [of recreational marijuana use] would be associated with 6,800…excess roadway deaths each year,” according to a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study, which was careful to add that there was no evidence of a causal relationship between pot legalization and traffic fatalities, found that states which legalized recreational marijuana use had 2.1 more traffic deaths per billion miles traveled than states that did not.

The study’s authors reviewed traffic fatality rates obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The first four states that legalized recreational marijuana – Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska – were compared to 20 states that had not legalized recreational nor medical marijuana use as of the beginning of 2018.

Traffic deaths were analyzed five years prior to and two years following legalization in those four states.

The findings of this study echoed those of previous research and “provided additional data that legalization of recreational marijuana is associated with increased traffic fatality rates.”

For example, “despite certain methodological differences, we found an increase similar to that reported by Aydelotte et al.,” wrote the authors.

This study also reached conclusions similar to those of a study including Oregon, which found a temporary increase in traffic fatalities.

However, like many other studies of its kind, this one could not prove that the increase in traffic fatalities was caused by marijuana legalization.

“It is possible that another confounder, rather than marijuana legalization and commercialization, caused the observed increase in roadway deaths,” the authors explained.

For this reason, the authors were precluded from drawing any definitive conclusions.

The study also warned that changes in traffic death rates may not occur immediately after legalization, but instead after some time has passed and/or retail sales of recreational pot have begun.

The study’s authors were Dr. Russell S. Kamer, professor of medicine at New York Medical College; Dr. Stephen Warshafsky, professor of medicine at New York Medical College; and Gordon C. Kamer, an undergraduate student at Harvard University.

Editor’s Note: For additional information on traffic stops and drugs, please see The Crime Report’s resource pages on “Policing” and “Drugs.” 

See also: “Study Finds ‘Persistent’ Racial Bias in Police Traffic Stops and Searches” by Michael Gelb, The Crime Report, July 9, 2020

Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern.

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