Re­search sur­prises on mar­i­juana

Study says states with med­i­cal pot laws have lower traf­fic fa­tal­ity rates.

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Fredrick Kun­kle

States with med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws have fewer traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties than those with­out, es­pe­cially among younger driv­ers, a new study found.

That goes against what might be a pop­u­lar per­cep­tion that crash rates would be higher, sup­pos­ing that more driv­ers are, too — es­pe­cially late at night.

But, no. Re­searchers at Columbia Univer­sity’s Mail­man School of Pub­lic Health found an 11 per­cent re­duc­tion in traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties on av­er­age when ex­am­in­ing places that have en­acted med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws — 23 states and the District of Columbia. The pres­ence of med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries also cor­re­lated with fewer traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties, the study found.

Sil­via Martins, a physi­cian and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor who was the study’s se­nior of­fi­cer, the­o­rized that lower traf­fic fa­tal­ity rates in states with mar­i­juana laws might be re­lated to lower lev­els of al­co­hol-im­paired driv­ing: Peo­ple, es­pe­cially younger peo­ple, be­gan sub­sti­tut­ing weed for booze.

There was lit­tle ev­i­dence of re­duc­tions in the traf­fic fa­tal­ity rate for peo­ple 45 or older, who are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in larger num­bers among peo­ple en­rolled in state med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­grams. The largest re­duc­tion in traf­fic fa­tal­ity rates in states with med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws oc­curred among driv­ers ages 15 to 44.

“We found ev­i­dence that states with the mar­i­juana laws in place com­pared with those which did not, re­ported, on av­er­age, lower rates of driv­ers en­dors­ing driv­ing af­ter hav­ing too many drinks,” Martins said in a writ­ten state­ment. She said other fac­tors that might par­tially ex­plain the cor­re­la­tion could be the “strength of pub­lic health laws re­lated to driv­ing, in­fra­struc­ture char­ac­ter­is­tics or the qual­ity of health care sys­tems.”

The re­searchers cau­tioned, how­ever, that not all states with med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws ex­pe­ri­enced re­duc­tions in the traf­fic fa­tal­ity rates. Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­ico ex­pe­ri­enced ini­tial re­duc­tions of 16 per­cent and 17.5 per­cent, re­spec­tively, af­ter the pas­sage of med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws but saw grad­ual in­creases in their traf­fic fa­tal­ity rates.

The study — pub­lished on­line in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health — an­a­lyzed Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion data on traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties from 1985 to 2014. The re­searchers took into ac­count fac­tors such as whether the states had grad­u­ated driver li­cens­ing laws, as well as me­dian house­hold in­come, un­em­ploy­ment rates, laws in­creas­ing the speed limit to 70 mph or more, laws on en­forc­ing the use of seat belts and bans on us­ing cell­phones and tex­ting while driv­ing.

The re­searchers un­der­took the study as more states passed med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws — nine from 2010 to 2014 — and con­cerns were raised about the pos­si­ble ef­fect on pub­lic safety. Pre­vi­ous re­search, for ex­am­ple, found that mar­i­juana use caused driv­ers to weave in traf­fic more of­ten and have slower re­ac­tion times; stud­ies also found that driv­ers who were high tended to re­duce speed — which sug­gest that the users were aware of mar­i­juana-re­lated im­pair­ment and were try­ing to com­pen­sate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.