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Since the Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado, Highway Fatalities Have Dropped Immensely

It doesn't really end When the state of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, many were concerned that the increased use of recreational marijuana would create a dangerous environment on the roads of Colorado. In 2001 when the state legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, they found a large increase of drivers who smoke pot, which the anti-marijuana group SAM points out. They also point out that legalized states have seen an increase in the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana in fatal car accidents.

The issue with these points is that on-site we can only test for the presence of marijuana metabolites, not for inebriation. These metabolites can stay in the body days and oftentimes weeks after using. Everyone metabolizes drugs differently, and a positive test simply let’s us know that the driver has used marijuana at some point in the past few days or weeks.

Since the new law passed the “drugged driver” panic has heightened. There have been examples where things have been drawn out of proportion. A Colorado Highway Patrol teamed up with local and national media to cover a story about a driver that was high on marijuana when he slammed into two police vehicles parked a highway exit ramp. The driver did in fact have marijuana in his system, but his blood alcohol was well beyond the legal limit and alcohol was much more likely to be the cause of the accident. Congress recently spoke on the matter, equipped with predictions such as “We are going to have a lot more people on the highway and there will be consequences,” from Rep. John Mica (R-Fla). Then there are representatives calling for a zero tolerance policy, which would imply that any driver found with pot in their system would end with a DWI. This would ban anyone who smokes pot from getting behind the wheel for weeks after the last time they smoked marijuana. This goes for patients using marijuana for medicinal reasons as well.

Rather than relying on predictions and general observations, perhaps it would be best to look at what has happened on roadways since legalization took place. Roadway fatality numbers have decreased since last year, and roadway fatalities in the past two years are lower than the overall 13-year average. The data suggests that in 2014 the totals are closer to the safest year to date since 2002.

The results that we’ve seen in other legalized states are similar. Studies show that as marijuana has become more available, there have been more drivers involved in fatal accidents, while contradictory studies suggest that fatalities in those states have dropped overall. Going back to the initial point: because these on-site tests for marijuana only measure for recent use rather than inebriation, there isn’t anything consistent about the end results.

It is true that the continuing fall in roadway fatalities whether looking at Colorado or other states, is due to a variety of factors including better-manufactured vehicles, adding superior safety features and innovative road engineering. These promising figures alone show highways are getting safer, and the stats had no relation to marijuana. It is possible that if marijuana were never legalized the latest fatality rates would be lower. There is no finite way to know. We can only continue to watch these figures and continue analyzing data as it presents itself. One thing for certain is that if fatalities were higher after legalization the prohibition supporters would be pointing fingers at the legalization that recently passed.

With that in mind, some researchers have suggested that easier access to marijuana is marginally making roads safer. The philosophy behind it is that people are exchanging marijuana for alcohol, which causes less impairment than alcohol does. Further years of studies are required to come to any conclusion at the moment, especially since some research suggest that drinkers are not yet ready to substitute their drink of choice for marijuana.

What we can take away from these studies is that data supports more positive information about fatal accidents on the highway than there are claims about stoned drivers terrorizing the highways.