Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Will Boost Traffic Deaths

Recently, two studies published on JAMA Internal Medicine, pointed out that the legalization of recreational marijuana may increase the risk of traffic accidents and lead to more deaths.

One of the studies found that since marijuana is legalized to sell in Colorado, January 2014, there is an excess of 75 traffic deaths per year. Compared with states without legal retail sales of marijuana, the number of traffic deaths increased in Colorado.


The second study focused on Oregon and Alaska and compared with the other 20 states without legal recreational pot sales. According to the statistics provided by this study, it showed a rise of 2 deaths per million miles traveled than states without marijuana legalization. As researchers calculated, about extra 6,800 people would die each year in traffic accidents if every state legalized marijuana sales.

Both studies required traffic death data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and compared the number of deaths several years before with two years after the retail sales of recreational marijuana. Those sales dates analyzed by researches were from 2014 to 2016.
(Traffic accident |

However, these two studies have limitations and cannot prove that the increase in traffic death was caused by marijuana use and legal retail sales.

On the one hand, the data of traffic deaths are not comprehensive; not all states with legal recreational marijuana present an increase in deaths. There is no similar founding in Washington state, were also legalized marijuana sales.

On the other hand, marijuana could remain in the human body for several days. Hence even though toxicology tests detected marijuana in tissues, it doesn’t mean the traffic death is caused by the use of marijuana, argued by Magdalena Cerda, a researcher at New York University. Studies lack information about health information and marijuana usage habits of drivers. Cerda noted that recreational pot laws might also affect drivers’ use of other drugs, such as alcohol. Hence, studies cannot prove the increase in traffic deaths is caused by the use of marijuana.

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