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States that Legalized Medical Marijuana Report a Drop in Traffic Deaths

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A new study reveals that the legalization of medical marijuana in U.S. states is not linked with traffic fatalities, according to a report by Business Insider. In fact, some states saw the number of people killed in traffic accidents drop after marijuana laws were passed.

Julian Santaella-Tenorio, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, states:

Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a reduction, which was totally unexpected.

The researchers discovered that traffic deaths dropped 11 percent on average in the states that have legalized marijuana, after analyzing 1.2 million traffic fatalities from 1985 through 2014. They found that the decrease was particularly striking due to the age group, 25 to 44-year-olds, because that age group is associated with a large percentage of registered medical marijuana users. The team published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health.

Although Santaella-Tenorio and his team were surprised by the drop in traffic deaths, the results of their findings mirror the results of another study published in 2013 in the Journal of Law and Economics. The 2013 study showed an 8 to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first full year after legalization of medical marijuana.

Benjamin Hansen, one of the authors of the previous study, said, “Public safety doesn’t decrease with increased access to marijuana, rather it improves.”

Hansen is an economics professor at the University of Oregon and is not involved in the current study.

It is not clear why traffic deaths might drop when medical marijuana becomes legal. The two studies can only show an association, but neither can prove cause and effect. Santaella-Tenorio and Hansen have suggested, however, that marijuana users might be more aware of their impairment than alcohol drinkers. It’s also possible, they suggest, that individuals with access to medical marijuana have substituted smoking weed at home for booze in bars, and thus have stayed off the roads.

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