Contrary to popular fear-mongering narratives, a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health claims the legalization of medical marijuana across the U.S. has not resulted in an increase of fatal car crashes. In some states, in fact, legalization has even corresponded with a drop in traffic fatalities.
“Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a reduction, which was totally unexpected,” said lead author Julian Santaella-Tenorio of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.
There are currently 29 states with medical marijuana legislation. After analyzing 1.2 million traffic fatalities between the years 1985 and 2014, researchers found that deaths dropped 11 percent on average in states that had legalized medical marijuana. The decline was particularly remarkable – 12 percent – among 25- to 44-year-olds, which the authors claim is an age group with a large percentage of registered medical marijuana consumers.
These findings echo those of another study published in 2013 in The Journal of Law and Economics, which showed an eight to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the first year after medical marijuana was legalized in 19 states.
“Public safety doesn’t decrease with increased access to marijuana, rather it improves,” said Benjamin Hansen, an author of the previous study.
The authors of both studies say it’s possible that marijuana smokers may be more aware of their intoxication compared to those under the influence of alcohol. It’s also possible, they say, that marijuana smokers spend more time at home with their supply than going out and drinking at bars. Increased police presence following the introduction of medical marijuana legislation may also be playing a role, researchers add.