The passage of state medical-marijuana laws is associated with a subsequent drop in the rate of traffic fatalities, according to a newly released study by two university professors.
The study — by University of Colorado Denver professor Daniel Rees and Montana State University professor D. Mark Anderson — found that the traffic-death rate drops by nearly 9 percent in states after they legalize marijuana for medical use. The researchers arrived at that figure, Rees said, after controlling for other variables such as changes in traffic laws, seat-belt usage and miles driven. The study stops short of saying the medical-marijuana laws cause the drop in traffic deaths.
“We were pretty surprised that they went down,” Rees said Tuesday.
I’m not. But then again, I’ve been spending years looking at cannabis and driving studies.
Now keep in mind that this study shows correlation, not causation, but it appears to be a very powerful correlation, in that it completely undermines the prohibitionist argument that legalization is certain to result in an Armageddon of fiery crashes on the highways.
I’m waiting for the inevitable complaint from the usual suspects about how both sides in the legalization debate are pushing statistics that don’t fully prove causation when we mention this study. But the clear difference is that this is an actual study that is specifically tracking data that is relevant to changes of use connected with legalization, whereas the drug czar either pulls stuff out of his ass, or lies about the import of completely irrelevant statistics.
Driving shouldn’t even be part of this legalization debate. There are so many other aspects of legalization that make the driving issue miniscule in comparison. But we have no choice, because every time we mention legalization, the prohibitionists are out there preaching vehicular doom and gloom.
So, why did the study find the roads safer after medical marijuana was passed? Are stoned drivers actually safer than straight drivers? Probably not. It’s the substitution factor.
Rees said the main reason for the drop appears to be that medical-marijuana laws mean young people spend less time drinking and more time smoking cannabis. Legalization of medical marijuana, the researchers report, is associated with a 12-percent drop in the alcohol-related fatal-crash rate and a 19-percent decrease in the fatality rate of people in their 20s, according to the study.
The study also found that medical- marijuana legalization is associated with a drop in beer sales.
“The result that comes through again and again and again is (that) young adults . . . drink less when marijuana is legalized and traffic fatalities go down,” Rees said.
Exactly. The truth is that the majority of drug users are not poly-drug users and changes in a drug’s status can result in switching. Despite the fact that alcohol and cannabis are very different in their effects on the body, they both fill a similar recreational niche, and there are many casual users who would prefer the many superior aspects of pot if it were legal.
Once that switch is made, the differences are astounding. I think back to my college years when the drunks came home and, after terrorizing some poor freshman, put their fist through a wall, while the stoners were affably listening to Pink Floyd and discussing philosophy. As George Carlin used to say, you don’t puke on your shoes. And you aren’t as likely to end up in fiery crashes.
Hey, I’m not against alcohol. I’m a big fan of Lagavulin 16 or a good Tanqueray and Tonic. And all drugs should be used in moderation.
But there’s no doubt that, when misused, alcohol is a phenomenally more dangerous drug than cannabis. And that’s especially true on the roads.
Alcohol releases inhibitions and causes people to act more recklessly even as their impairment increases, while making them feel invincible. Cannabis, on the other hand makes people almost paranoically aware of their impairment, resulting in increased caution, sometimes to extremes.
As I’ve been fond of joking:
The drunk driver speeds through the stop sign without seeing it.
The stoned driver stops and patiently waits for it to turn green.
Here is my own personal and completely unscientific view of the relative dangers of drivers (obviously, these are very broad generalizations, but I think they serve to make the point).
The most dangerous I’ve ever been behind the wheel of a car was from being tired. That doze off and sudden wakening while driving… I feel so much safer these days now that I’ve learned to pull over somewhere and take a quick nap whenever I feel that tired.
Do I want people to drive while stoned? No. Of course not. Nor do I want them to drive tired or distracted. And I really think that my 95-year-old Uncle should stop driving (I’d ride with a stoned driver instead of him any day.)
If legalization of marijuana means that some of those who currently misuse alcohol switch to pot, we will save lives. And that’s a fact.