Legalization of medical marijuana is not linked with increased fatalities, a new study found. In some states, in fact, is the number of deaths in traffic accidents fell after medical marijuana laws were enacted.
“Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a decline that was totally unexpected,” said Julian Santaella-Tenorio, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.
Since 1996, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
Deaths decreased by 11 percent on average in the states, that have legalized medical marijuana, researchers discovered after analyzing 1.2 million traffic fatalities nationwide from 1985 to 2014.
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The decrease in deaths was particularly striking – 12% – at 25 – to 44-year-olds, an age group with a large percentage of registered medical marijuana users, the authors of the report in the American Journal of Public Health.
Although Santaella-Tenorio was surprised by the decline in road deaths, the results reflect the findings of another study of data from 19 member states in 2013 in The Journal of Law and Economics. It proved to be an 8 to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first full year after the legalization of medical marijuana.
“Public safety does not reduce with increased access to marijuana, but it is improving,” Benjamin Hansen, one of the authors of the previous study, said in an e-mail. Hansen, an economics professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene, was not involved in the current study.
He warned that both marijuana and alcohol are drugs that can impair driving.
It is not clear why fatalities would be covered if medical marijuana becomes legal, and the study only an association; it cannot prove cause and effect.
The authors of both studies suggest that marijuana users are more aware of their impairment as a result of the drug than drinkers. It is also possible, they say, that patients with access to medical marijuana need to be replaced weed at home for drinks in the bars and stayed off the roads.
Or, they suggest that the decline in road fatalities would come from other factors, such as an increased presence of the police, after the adoption of the medical marijuana laws.
The police authorities have yet to devise a way to test drivers for marijuana intoxication, and have raised concerns about drivers high on cannabis.
Although traffic fatalities decreased following legalization of medical marijuana laws in seven states, fatality rates rose in Rhode Island and Connecticut, the study found.
California immediately cut road deaths by 16 percent after medical marijuana legalization, and saw a gradual increase in the study found. The researchers saw a similar trend in New Mexico, with an immediate reduction of more than 17 percent, followed by a rise.
The findings show differences in the various states ‘ medical marijuana laws and to highlight the need for research on the particulars of how municipalities have implemented them, Santaella-Tenorio said.
The voters in Denver, Colorado approved a November ballot measure to the public consumption of marijuana, Hansen noted. But, he said, “We do not know the public health consequences of these types of changes in the policies yet.”