The legalization of marijuana is much on the minds of Americans these days, especially as states like California and, more recently, Colorado and Oregon push ahead. Data like this will no doubt be a part of the debate.
A new study of fatal car crashes in six states between 1999 and 2010 indicates that car crashes related to marijuana use have tripled:
Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health gathered data from six states – California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia – that perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car accidents. This data included over 23,500 drivers that died within one hour of a crash between 1999 and 2010.
Li reported in the study that alcohol contributed to about 40 percent of traffic fatalities throughout the decade.
The researchers found that drugs played an increasing role in fatal traffic accidents. Drugged driving accounted for more than 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010, which is 16 percent more than it was in 1999.
The researchers also found that marijuana was the main drug involved in the increase. It contributed to 12 percent of fatal crashes, compared to only 4 percent in 1999.
“If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of the driver who is not under the influence of alcohol,” Li said. “But if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increased to 24 times that of a sober person.”
Researchers found that the increase in marijuana use occurred across all ages for males and females.
So, the conclusion is that legalized marijuana will lead to more impaired driving and more fatal accidents.
The problem with that conclusion is that it supposes that existing drug laws are doing much to contain use of marijuana, which doesn’t seem to be the case. Even this study supports that conclusion, finding the number of fatal accidents involving marijuana to be growing despite anti-pot laws.
We may even find that legalizing marijuana leads to less irresponsible behavior with the drug. During the prohibition era, the temperance movement was dismayed to learn that far from promoting a more sober society outlawing alcohol actually drove people to riskier, unhealthier behavior than they’d engaged in before.
Besides, how much harm is government efforts to combat marijuana production, distribution and use doing on its own? As William F. Buckley Jr. once wrote: “Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could.”