Medical marijuana reduces traffic deaths?

Wow, who knew so many glaucoma patients were drunk drivers?

A new study from University of Colorado-Denver researchers reports,

The legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 6.4 percent decrease in fatal crashes that did not involve alcohol, but this estimate is not statistically significant at conventional levels. In comparison, the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with an almost 12 percent decrease in any-BAC fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers, and an almost 14 percent decrease in high-BAC fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers.

The negative relationship between legalization of medical marijuana and traffic fatalities involving alcohol is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes. In order to explore this hypothesis further, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and alcohol consumption using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and The Brewer’s Almanac. We find that the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with decreased alcohol consumption, especially by 20- through 29-year-olds. In addition we find that legalization is associated with decreased beer sales, the most popular alcoholic beverage among young adults.

The problem with this study is obvious.

The authors’ hypothesis is that 20-29 year-olds are substituting marijuana for beer, which reduces the incidence of drunk driving accidents.

But isn’t medical marijuana supposed to be dispensed by physicians to presumably sick patients? The authors summarize medical marijuana laws as follows:

Federal regulations prohibit doctors from writing prescriptions for marijuana. In addition, even if a doctor were to illegally prescribe marijuana, it would be against federal law for pharmacies to distribute it. Doctors in states that have legalized medical marijuana avoid violating federal law by recommending marijuana to their patients rather than prescribing its use. Because it is illegal for pharmacies to distribute marijuana, cannabis products intended for medicinal use are typically obtained from cooperatives or dispensaries.

So if the hypothesis reported by the researchers is true, medical marijuana laws have essentially devolved into recreational marijuana laws — as opponents said they would. Whether or not that is a good thing is open for debate, but this study draws a somewhat misleading inverse correlation between medical marijuana and drunk driving.

What they really ought to say is that smoking dope — regardless of the source of the dope — may be correlated with reduced drunk driving.

But even that conclusion is caveated with the fact that the researchers performed only a statistical study and do not actually have any direct evidence that dope smoking had any effect on drunk driving.

Click for the study.

Click for the media release.

11 thoughts on “Medical marijuana reduces traffic deaths?”

  1. So . . . if everybody smoked the stuff . . . we could possibly have NO Accidents . . . laughable!!!
    Time to do a study on the U of Colorado . . . search for functioning Brain Cells . . . may be difficult to find!!!

  2. Dale has a good point. How about everybody starts toking up and we’ll tabulate the results? I’ll do the survey because I don’t touch the stuff.

  3. How would such a finding control for a decrease in traffic deaths due to lower consumption of Vehicle Miles Traveld plus the dempgrapic changes that puts a higher and higher percentage of drivers retired and not driving to work or as a part of their work? Sophisticated anlysis is not required for those who are on dope. According to this, insurance companies should lower their rates as dope smoking and driving increase.

  4. They state in the second quoted paragraph that they have found a decrease in beer sales after medical marijuana was legalized. This is not something they hypothesized, but apparently something they measured. The hypothesis is that these are causally related (plausible – but only if your point is true that this represents recreational use) and then – the big step – that this is related (causally) to the reduction in fatal car accidents. Although the causality issue is always a question, at least there is a plausible potential link between legalizing dope and reduced drinking and a (less plausible, but also possible) potential link between less drinking and fewer fatal crashes (confounding factors already noted above).

    This study can be (or may already have been) promoted as an unexpected benefit of legalizing medical marijuana, but only through – as you state – the tacit acceptance of law-breaking. The bigger issue is what are the costs of this program. One would be the lack of respect for the rule of law that comes with the the tacit acceptance of law-breaking, but I suspect the real issue people who argue against relaxation of drug laws are concerned about is the potential for migration from marijuana to other – potentially more harmful – illegal drugs. This is not covered in this extract and I suspect not covered at all in the study

  5. I think they are trying to go through the back door to legalize marijuana for recreational use. If you look at the list they give at the so called clinics of conditions for which it can be prescribed, just about everyone could find something on that list. :/

  6. If you review the crime stats for the last ten years in the city where I live, there is downward trend of all crimes including dui (alcohol). After the passing of Medical MJ, there has been a rise in narcotic crimes (they had been decreasing). What is interesting is that the ratio of arrests to reported crime for narcotics is about 1.25. For other crimes its just the opposite just 0.15 to 0.35 (ie:15 arrests per 100 reported incidences)
    Reading the “crime bulletins” its not uncommon to see a DUI (alcohol) suspect have marijauna in addition to a high blood alcohol content. Likewise, its common to see a DUID (D for drugs) suspect to have MJ as well as other narcotics (ex: heroin or oxycotin.) I cry “foul” on this “substitute” hypothosis.
    The medical MJ law preyed on people’s compassion and was really a path to “back door” legalization. My spidey sense tells me some backlash is brewing. They should have been straight up and promoted decriminalization.

  7. Getting into very important social issues through back doors is not the best thing to do. The theme is not appointed directly as more loops are taken to address this problem. Linking it to alcohol and driving is just another one. People arguing that Marijuana may lead to stronger stuff don’t bear in mind that consumers of stronger substances might start consuming those without travelling the marijuana path as in many other countries where the hard stuff is or comes from. Let’s think about this globally and not only as an American problem because dealers, the big ones, don’t live in the US.
    A better approach to solve problems like these is to link marijuana with delinquency. While marijuana is taken as illegal the same traffic dealers will be in charge of its distribution, same people that kills for more expensive drugs- which are worth a few bullets. Marijuana isn’t.
    Trafficking delinquency exists thanks to expensive drugs, those with large profit margins, just because it’s legacy of being illegal. Don’t forget that this word- illegal, attracts some people in one hand. In the other profits are so high that people tend to make easy money in short times. But these stronger drugs aren’t expensive at all where they are produced. Actually they are really cheap. If we can take profit margins off hard drugs there won’t be even traffic dealers. Users there will be as alcohol drinkers exist. We don’t need Elliot Ness in this war but W. Churchill a decisions taking person with trial and error method. What is the worst thing it might happen if by making drugs NOT illegal we make a huge mistake? We just try something else. Let’s don’t lose the battle against the Bad. Let’s take their opportunities off -in this issue and in every other aspect of life. Let’s stop being naive and don’t give them the tools to harm us. I guess public health might address this problem is a much better and safe way and perhaps make some gains out of it as well as State.
    Sorry I went off the topic.

  8. It amazes me the same people who want a smaller, less obtrusive government with maximum freedom consider it ok to fund the DEA. These same people say nothing about the government providing weapons to the drug cartels to murder Americans. Nothing of the civil rights violations with no knock warrants. Nothing of the welfare families created because we put the bread winner in jail for buying an ounce of pot. Either you or I need to re-read our constitution to find out how the feds got involved. Alcohol prohibition required a change to the constitution because it infringed on the peoples’ rights and they didn’t even try with tobacco which we know to be at least as dangerous as alcohol. I’d rather be in a car wreck with a stoner doing 12 mph instead of someone on booze trying to prove his car can do 120.

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