Is medical marijuana the cause of increased traffic deaths in Colorado?
Researchers have found a significant rise in the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents following legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado in 2009. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System the increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents correlates with legalization of pot for medical use.
For their analysis University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers compared driving related fatalities in 34 states that have not legalized marijuana.
Fatalities began to soar from 2009 to 2011 in Colorado, after medicinal marijuana became legal, compared to 34 states where marijuana is not legal.
Fatal vehicle crashes involving drivers testing positive for marijuana accounted for 4.5 percent of motor vehicle deaths in the first 6-months of 1994. The figure jumped to 10 percent in the last six-months of 2011. The percentage of fatalities was significantly higher than in non-medical marijuana states.
In contrast, alcohol related motor vehicle deaths remained the same
The study, led by Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, Ph.D, who was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at Colorado School of Medicine is published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
How to explain the data?
Research so far has shown marijuana has little to no effect on a person’s ability to drive. Studies have also shown drivers compensate when under the influence of cannabis by driving more cautiously and slowly.
The finding doesn't mean medical marijuana caused the increase in traffic fatalities in Colorado. It could be an indication that more people are driving while impaired, or that more people are using medical marijuana. The authors concluded: “Prevention efforts and policy changes in Colorado are needed to address this concerning trend in marijuana-positive drivers. In addition, education on the risks of marijuana-positive driving needs to be implemented."
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