Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jan 2017
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2017 Hearst Communications Inc.


The health and public safety concerns that kept marijuana illegal for
generations are proving unfounded where it is now legal.

A new study from Columbia University found that traffic fatalities have
fallen in seven states where medicinal cannabis is legal and that,
overall, states where medical marijuana is legal have lower traffic
fatality rates than states were medical marijuna remains illegal.

The study found that "medical marijuana laws were associated with
immediate reductions in traffic fatalities in those aged 15 to 24 and 25
to 44 years, and with additional yearly gradual reductions in those aged
25 to 44 years." Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states.

Seven researchers from Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health worked
on the study, with two more researchers from the University of California
at Davis and Boston University. They published the study in the American
Journal of Public Health.

The researchers used traffic accident data from 1985 to 2014, about 1.2
million accidents. They focused on the relationship between medical
marijuana laws and the number of fatal traffic accidents, examining each
state with legalized medical marijuana separately.

They also looked at the relationship between the existence of medical
marijuana dispensaries and traffic accidents, finding a reduction in the
number of fatal accidents among those ages 25 to 44 in areas where
dispensaries were open.

The researchers concluded that both medical marijuana legalization and
dispensaries were, on average, associated with a reduction in traffic
fatalities, particularly among drivers 25 to 44-years-old.

They suggested a few possibilities for this conclusion.

* Those under the influence of marijuana are more aware of their impaired
condition than those under the influence of alcohol and may more often
make the choice not to drive.

* More people have replaced going out to drink in bars with partaking of
marijuana at home, reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.

* An increased police presence in areas where medical marijuana is legal
could have led to fewer people attempting to drive while under the
influence of marijuana.

"Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a reduction, which
was totally unexpected," Julian Santaella-Tenorio, the lead researcher on
the study, told Reuters.

Findings varied by state. Rhode Island and Connecticut saw increases in
traffic fatalities after medical marijuana became legal. California and
New Mexico saw double-digit drops immediately after legalization, followed
by increases.

The varying statistics point to the need for further study into each
state's laws and how they have been implemented, Santaella-Tenorio said.
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