Study: Traffic Deaths Decline 9% in States with Medical Cannabis Laws

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Believe it or not, allowing the use and sale of medical cannabis might help lower traffic fatalities.

A new study by two university economics professors found that deaths tied to traffic accidents have fallen roughly 9 percent in states that adopted medical pot laws.

Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado Denver and D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, who spearheaded the study, said there isn’t enough evidence to pin the decrease directly on the fact that those states have MMJ laws.

But they didn’t rule out a cause-and-effect relationship either, saying that there appears to be an indirect effect: People in states with medical pot laws apparently drink less alcohol, opting for marijuana instead. That, ostensibly, cuts down on drunk driving and related accidents. The study found that deaths resulting from alcohol-related car accidents fell 12 percent, while beer sales fell 5 percent and overall alcohol consumption among people in their 20s dipped as well.

“Although we make no policy recommendations, it certainly appears as though medical marijuana laws are making our highways safer,” Rees said.

But what about all those drivers who smoked up before getting in the car? Aren’t they just as dangerous as inebriated drivers? The professors said that stoned drivers typically are more risk-averse behind the wheel, while drunk drivers often are more aggressive.

The study takes a close look at the 13 states that passed medical pot laws between 1990 and 2009 vs. the picture nationally (three other states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical marijuana laws since that period). It relies primarily on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The professors say they accounted for numerous variables including the use of seat belts and the number of miles driven.

The study is particularly notable because it was conducted by university professors rather than the usual suspects, such as industry groups or organizations that are against medical pot (both of which bring an agenda to the table). Still, it will likely generate a fair share of controversy, as the issue is extremely heated. Some states, such as Colorado, are looking to pass laws that limit the amount of THC a driver can have in his or her blood stream, similar to DUI regulations for alcohol.

Expect to see various groups denounce the findings in the coming weeks.