Studies: Auto crash rates spike after marijuana legalization

Though medical marijuana had been available in Pasadena and throughout California for 20 years, in November of 2016, voters took the next step by legalizing recreational marijuana. Today, adults 21 and older can possess up to one ounce of dried marijuana or eight grams of concentrated cannabis under California law.

As the saying goes, elections have consequences. One of the negative consequences of marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly clear.

Wreck rates rise

Researchers say there’s emerging evidence that motor vehicle crash rates rise when states legalize recreational marijuana.

Auto wreck rates rose here in California, as well as in Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Colorado after the legalization of recreational weed use and retail sales of marijuana, according to new studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” says IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey.

A shift in opinion

The tide of popular opinion has definitely turned in favor of legalization in recent years. Today, slightly more than two-thirds of American adults favor legalization.

With that shift in attitude comes an upward shift in consumption: self-reports of marijuana use doubled from 2008 to 2019, going from 6 percent to 12 percent of those surveyed.

Cannabis’s popularity is making roads, streets and highways less safe. Driving simulator tests show that drivers high on marijuana are slower to react. They also have more difficulty maintaining their lane position – and they make more errors when they’re high than they do when sober.

Injuries and fatalities jump

The IIHS and HLDI studies show after legalization in the five states, injury crash rates rose by 6 percent and fatal crash rates rose 4 percent compared with nearby states where recreational marijuana use was illegal.

The rises in auto accident rates are probably not entirely surprising. Hopefully, this research and future studies will help users of marijuana to exercise caution and avoid driving while they’re impaired – just as those who use alcohol should never get behind the wheel after they’ve had as little as a single drink.