Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2011
Source: Missoulian (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Missoulian
Author: Chelsi Moy


States like Montana that have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana
have seen a decrease in traffic fatalities and a reduction in beer
sales, a new study has found.

A report authored by a D. Mark Anderson, a Montana State University
economics professor, and Daniel Rees, a professor at the University of
Colorado Denver, discovered a 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities
in states that passed laws legalizing medical marijuana. The study
points to marijuana as a substitute drug for alcohol.

So far, 16 states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana.
Surveys show that residents in these states are reporting consuming
less alcohol and retailers are reporting a 5 percent reduction in
alcohol sales.

"That was really compelling," Anderson said by phone Wednesday. "It's
data that either wasn't analyzed or isn't analyzed as frequently as it
should be."

Most of the data collected between 1990 and 2009 came from the
National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Behavioral Risk Factor
Surveillance System and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The
study includes the 13 states that had passed medical marijuana laws
before 2009.

The study was posted on the Institute for the Study of Labor at the
end of November.

The research idea came to Anderson a year ago as he watched medical
marijuana dispensaries spring up along Grand Avenue in Billings and
saw the issue in the news.

"It seems like there would be spillover effects that would affect more
than just the card-carrying users," he said. "With all the publicity
that medical marijuana had been receiving, especially in states like
Montana, it was hard to miss."

A portion of the study examines alcohol consumption and marijuana
consumption in three states: Montana, Rhode Island and Vermont. In
Montana and Rhode Island, the authors found that the passage of laws
legalizing medical marijuana led to increased marijuana use among
adults in these states.

In Montana, marijuana use rose 19 percent among people ages 18-25
after medical marijuana was legalized.

While not all traffic fatalities are alcohol related, the study found
that these kinds of traffic deaths decreased significantly. Traffic
fatalities on the weekends and at night, when many alcohol-related
traffic deaths occur, decreased after laws legalizing medical
marijuana were passed, the study found.

In addition, the researchers found that beer sales in these states
dipped 5 percent after medical marijuana was legalized.

Anderson recognizes that it's possible that residents in these states
are driving less. And the study doesn't say that medical-marijuana
laws cause a drop in traffic fatalities.

Researchers also aren't saying that smoking marijuana impairs drivers
less than alcohol, but "it could be that," Anderson said. "We're
saying our results would be consistent with that."

The study has been receiving mixed reviews since it was first
presented to the public. Not everyone agrees with its findings. The
study is under review by the Journal of Law and Economics.

"We are hoping it will stimulate some kind of policy discussion beyond
what's discussed in the press," Anderson said. "That's the goal of
doing this research. Hopefully when states decide whether to legalize
medical marijuana or decide to go back on legalizing it, that this
will be some research that will be included in the discussion.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D