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States with medical marijuana see fewer driving deaths

Since the legalization of marijuana medicinally in 2000 and recreationally in 2014, safety advocates in Colorado have expressed their concerns about a spike in driving under the influence. Not only could easy access mean more widespread cases of DUI, but law enforcement could be without a way to test for marijuana "intoxication" on the road.

As of 2014, 19 states had legalized medical marijuana. Overall, traffic deaths dropped 11 percent from 1985 to 2014 in these states. Colorado was one of seven states in the study that saw a measurable drop in deaths since 2010. The trend favored the western United States while two states on the East Coast saw an increase in fatalities.

Correlation or causation?

The study notes that the drop in deaths since the legalization of medical marijuana is likely a correlation and not causation. The relaxation of drug laws is simply one of many factors that have led to a decrease in deaths in "medical" states. The study also took into account laws related to texting and driving and seatbelt use.

Driving while impaired by marijuana also has a different effect on drivers than alcohol, according to the study. Marijuana causes drivers to be more prone to a slowed response time and crossing lanes. However, unlike alcohol, it can also make drivers more cautious and slow.

Driving while impaired by any drug, including alcohol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is illegal nationwide. Colorado law says a person who has more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood can be convicted of DUI. Determining this requires a blood test, which can be tricky since THC is detected in the blood stream for up to 30 days after consumption.

Are stoned drivers more likely to crash?

A separate study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed driving under the influence of marijuana presents a "minimally higher risk" of crashing than sobriety. Young, male drivers had the highest rates of accidents while driving under the influence, but this could be due to the inherently more aggressive driving tendencies of that demographic than the use of marijuana. The 2014 study mentioned above showed a drop in deaths among men aged 25-44 in medical states.

Although the risk has declined, driving under the influence of marijuana or any other drug is illegal. Drivers can be liable for criminal and civil penalties. While a criminal court seeks justice for public wrongs, a civil court allows injured parties to seek damages against the wrongful driver.

By using the justice system to hold drivers accountable, Coloradans can enjoy marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes while maintaining safe driving habits on the road.

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