Study: Passage of Medical Marijuana Laws Associated With Reduced Incidences of Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities

The passage of medical cannabis laws is associated with a reduction in the public’s consumption of alcohol and with fewer incidences of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, according to data published in the Journal of Law and Economics.

Investigators at Montana State University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Colorado assessed data regarding both alcohol consumption and traffic fatality rates for the years 1990 to 2010.

Authors wrote: “Using individual-level data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) …, we find that MMLs (medical marijuana laws) are associated with decreases in the probability of [an individual] having consumed alcohol in the past month, binge drinking, and the number of drinks consumed.”

Researchers further acknowledged that this general decline in the public’s use of alcohol was likely responsible for a parallel decline in the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

They wrote:

“Using data from FARS (federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System) for the period 1990–2010, we find that traffic fatalities fall by 8–11 percent the first full year after legalization. … Why does legalizing medical marijuana reduce traffic fatalities? Alcohol consumption appears to play a key role. The legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 7.2 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in which there was no reported alcohol involvement, but this estimate is not statistically significant at conventional levels. In comparison, the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 13.2 percent decrease in fatalities in which at least one driver involved had a positive BAC level. The negative relationship between the legalization of medical marijuana and traffic fatalities involving alcohol lends support to the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.”

Authors determined, “We conclude that alcohol is the likely mechanism through which the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities. However, this conclusion does not necessarily imply that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is often consumed in restaurants and bars, while many states prohibit the use of medical marijuana in public. If marijuana consumption typically takes place at home or other private locations, then legalization could reduce traffic fatalities simply because marijuana users are less likely to drive while impaired.”

The abstract of the study, “Medical marijuana laws, traffic fatalities, and alcohol consumption,” is available free online here. NORML has several additional papers specific to the issue of cannabis and psychomotor performance available online here.

28 thoughts

  1. So why is Marijuana illegal? Why isn’t there driving tests to test how well a driver drives while on the influence of Marijuana like they did with alcohol in the 70’s?

  2. As more states pass MMJ laws, there should be an associated decrease in alcohol usage/deaths. The same should also hold true for opioid painkillers. Big Booze and Pharma know this hence their traditional resistance to marijuana decrim/legalization. Read the tea leaves, alcohol will finally become known as one of the most harmful drugs humans consume and I daresay the decline in tobacco use will speed up exponentially as well.

  3. Well Im not surprised. The ones that will lose the most are big tobacco and alcohol. And I have just one thing to say about that: Ha ha ha ha! Those drugs suck.

  4. I used to play music in red neck bars all those years ago. A guy walks out of a bar. He’s been drinking all evening. Now HE decides if he’s in good enough shape to drive.

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  5. Okay, maybe I was wrong about alcohol companies needing to worry then. I still can’t imagine that alcohol is going to go away just because of marijuana, but I guess perhaps it does get consumed less.

    I’m not convinced that legalizing is going to result in an uptick of people getting into MJ-related accidents. I’ve heard it said that someone driving under MJ influence is more likely to go way too slowly rather than drive fast, unlike with alcohol, so you’re still probably more likely to maintain a low level of high-fatality accidents even if people started driving high. Of course, that’s just word-on-the-street and not scientific evidence.

    Of course, for my own part, I can’t imagine that more people are going to be driving high just because smoking pot is legal. First of all, if people are lucid enough to avoid driving high because pot is illegal, then it can’t possibly be impairing them enough to be unable to make the right decision. Second of all, people who drive under the influence of alcohol don’t do it “just because” alcohol is legal–after all, driving drunk is illegal and so would driving high if MJ gets legalized. So they’re either driving drunk because liquor impairs you to a point where you can’t make the wise decision to not drive while drunk–which we’d already have with MJ if it impairs people in the same way–or you have some idiots who underestimate their own capacity for impairment–which again, we’d still have whether MJ is illegal or not. All this talk about “what about traffic safety, if we legalize everyone will be high ALL THE TIME, even on the road or working with heavy machinery WONT’ SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” is just more irrelevant extinction-burst from the panic-stricken Drug War profiteers sensing their free ride is at an end. I have no sympathy whatsoever.

  6. In this age of ‘legal highs’ and ever changing pharmacology of illegal drugs we need to move to impairment testing – not chemical testing to decide it you are DUI. There is some evidence that people (especially the young) are using any kind of drug they can get their hands on so long as it does not show up on the testing they are subjected to. Drug testing should deter the use of dangerous drugs not push people to dangerous drugs simply because people will not test positive after taking them. As we all know the cannabis tests are the most stringent since they can detect use within the last 28 days but you would still be classed the same as someone under the influence if you tested positive.
    The law on drugs and the testing is no longer fit for purpose and is increasingly detached from the realities of drug use today.

  7. This study makes perfect sense to me. As someone who uses cannabis and alcohol, often in combination, I can tell you that I drink much less because of the combination. As a result, I’m not drunk when I get ready to drive and I’ve never had a single accident after almost 40 years of cannabis use!

    Also, from my personal experience, I’ve driven many times under the influence of marijuana and have never had the slightest problem. It is simply a matter of being responsible; which I believe the majority of cannabis users are.

  8. Pot doesn’t make feel so bold and daring while I take chances on the road. It makes me think too much on what may happen, and it cause me to drive like a dull boring person. What’s the fun in that? Pot makes you worry about safety and become overly cautious because your imagination is on overdrive.

  9. Well put. Howard Stern compared a rock concert with weed, and one with alcohol. The alcohol concert would likely have arrests, fights, and probably some sick dudes, but a weed concert would be mellow and calm. He’s right.

  10. i find that i would so rather consume cannabis and have no need for alcohol. for one, the kind of comfort i receive from cannabis is second to none!not sloppy as with alcohol.i say this because historically, i love to drink liquor but, would not if allowed to consume cannabis.i could see a program where recovering alcoholics would benefit from consuming cannabis…that is only one good thing about cannabis….their are MANY!!…..

  11. Been a cannabis smoker over 40 years, ever since Vietnam, never drink alcohol. I have driven back and forth accross the U.S. many times stoned with no problems. As others have stated, it makes one more cautious, slower and more careful. All contributing to safety on the highways and byways. Stop the lies, legalize.

  12. For some consumers of alcohol, it appears as if it merely serves as a less expensive substitute which is not only legal, but also more readily accessible. Making the alternative more easily accessible for adults would seemingly cause a reduction in alcohol related injuries.

  13. I developed epilepsy at age 41 out of nowhere. I have tried every type of anti-seizure meds along with a plethera of other drugs for the “cocktail” which had me turn into a zombie. Ihen would go for 3 to 4 days without showering, ended up with kidney stones from all the drugs they had me on plus stomach and intestinal problems. I broke my neck and had a two level fusion in 2006, prior to that I was in pain management for almost 1 1/2 years before surgery till I found the best in South Florida. I went from 100mcg fentanyl, 200+ oxcontin 30mg and 200+ vicodin as well as 6 other drugs for my spine. I wanted to stop once I healed but when I tried to quit on my own the first time I tried cold turkey. Bad idea. Didn’t know that ceasing benzos cold turkey can kill you, plus I was violently ill. Prior to all this I avoided opiates. I ended up in the hospital thinking they would help me detox because I had the best insurance, plenty money came with a bag of clothes, next thing I know I get arrested for asking a doctor to help me set up a taper program. Again cold turkey but locked up in a facility for a month and all they did was keep pumping me full of my meds, stabilized me, and let me go with no referrals for a legit opiate center to quit. They just came in my room one dsy and told me they maxed out my insurance and would’nt keep me even if I paid cash, and this was a private hospital. They did get me off the benzo’s but that was it. Moving forward, I really need the medicine for my spine, as I am facing at least 2 more back surgeries in the future. I

  14. To continue, I have been putting them off until it is no longer an option. I was only able to stay off opiates for 3 weeks to get a new job, and then right back to the clinic from anxiety attacks to insomnia, tremors from the nerve damage, basically I am blessed every day I can still walk. I had done research for epilepsy when I was diagnosed. That’s where I learned about CBD’s and their effectiveness with epilepsy. Ironically within 3 weeks I saw the special Sanjay Gupta did on Charlotte, the little girl that had up to 100 seizures a day, and was basically catatonic and told she would be lucky to make it till 11 or 13, something like that. She was the youngest person to actually try tincture made from a strain that was only .47% thc, but 39.8% CBD. Watching her come alive and limit seizures to once a week was very inspiring. I am interested to see what my neurologist says next month when I engage in a discussion w her. I have not tried it yet, as there are no dispensaries in Ohio. I am on SSDI and do not want to jeopardize anything for a medicine that may hep me

  15. Oa positive note, today is 11 days without opiates. A new beginning, one hour at time sometimes. I used the “THOMAS RECIPE” that seems everywhere on the internet, and it wasn’t as bad as last time or what I expected. 3 days of sickness then 4 of sleep, and yesterday actually woke up feeling okay. So I traveled to a state where it is legal for medicine and had a long discussion about my intentions and situation, snd for him to conferred with him for 45 minutes about the science and promise for epilepsy. He knew about the Israel government for their contributions and years of work, to collect data and breed strains just for the CBD’S and CBN. In lab rats it has been known to cease epilepsy entirely, so there appears to be great promise even for attacking cancer cells…All the data the FDA and big pharma don’t want us to know because epilepsy meds are big money. Especially when you can make your own medicine for pennies on the dollar, without all the horrible side effects, unintentional overdoses, theft and violence over a literal weed that is very hard to kill and you cannot overdose. That itself is the greatest statistic that is always suppressed, although each year alcohol kills 100’s per year from alcohol poisoning of mixing it with other drugs which is a ticket for the bus in the sky

  16. Because the harsh laws here, I am forced to relocate to a state where you can get a legal prescription and see a doctor to monitor the effectiveness and have communication w my neuro. I truly believe that the medicines they are creating have giant potential for legitimate health issues, as long as it is not abused like street drugs or even prescribed like in my case. Sometimes just to feel hungry or even be able to eat and eliminate panic attacks which trigger my seizures, would change my life. I saw it first hand on CNN, and it tied into all the research I did on my own, because here I cannot even start a dialogue with my doctors for fear of being “labeled” as an addict. I was definitely dependent and became addicted simply because opiates are physically addictive. Hopefully someone will read my posts and share their experiences before I try anything like that. Finally after 4 er visits and a couple concussions, I need a change and want to live as long as possible, prescription drug free, unless vital for my safety. Please share your experiences and it helps take my mind off always stressing how alone I am, and nobody in my family really understands. My tolerance for pain is probably 4 times what most people endure 24/7. 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep is like a slice of heaven. Sometimes I am up for 3 days because my mind won’t stop. I was diagnosed w ADD as a child, and refused meds for that as “legal speed” to me was bot an option and still refuse. Yoga, breathing technique, creative visitulation, heating pads, ice’ Biofresse is a great creme

  17. I loved what Joel & Dan said! So true-IF people do decide to drive high….they more than likely will NOT cause or be in a wreck because bein high totally makes you OVER analye everything! We would be thinkin of 100 ways NOT to get in accident whereas bein alcohol impaired. You get the FALSE judgemment that your ok to drive-resulting in fatalities!! MJ all the way! Oh & Tommy-I lie in ATX

  18. Umm, they need to actually test people on marijuana driving with objectives tests. Then we can actually say whether it is safe or not.

    Some cop told me, “Well you can’t drive on marijuana because it is dangerous.” Sounds like bullshit to me. Tell me something like, “You can’t drive right after taking marijuana.” Except in twenty fives years of toking, I’ve never seen anyone or myself have any difficulties safely operating a motor vehicle.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen drunks that couldn’t walk tell me they can drive. Umm, no. Still don’t have any idea what alcohol impairment has to do with marijuana users…???

  19. One need to understand different between alcohol and dope products such as marijuana. While it is being used to create cure for medical marijuana, people still using it for dope and for smoke. People should get benifit from this article.

  20. well everyone has different set of mind and they know what it does and what not. The only thing is that we all have to be consious about our health, rather than wasting our time getting high.

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