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More Car Accidents in States Where Marijuana is Legal

Update Date: Jun 27, 2017 09:16 AM EDT

Driving while high on marijuana is probably leading to more auto accidents. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, auto claims are on the rise in the three states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. 

"We're concerned about what we're seeing," said Matt Moore, the institute's senior vice president. "We see strong evidence of an increased crash risk in states that have approved recreational marijuana sales." 

The study could not link the accident rate directly to the use of marijuana. It is not known how many of the accidents were caused by the driver being high on marijuana. The study also comes behind another study that suggests that traffic deaths fell after states legalized medicinal marijuana. 

"Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a reduction, which was totally unexpected," said Julian Santaella-Tenorio, the study's lead author and a doctoral student at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Since 1996, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Deaths dropped 11 percent on average in states that legalized medical marijuana, researchers discovered after analyzing 1.2 million traffic fatalities nationwide from 1985 through 2014.

It is possible that drivers on marijuana may be more likely to cause an accident, but that the accidents they cause are usually minor. It is theorised that the slower speed of drivers on marijuana would have something to do with the decrease in traffic deaths, yet the increase in overall accidents.  

"Colorado has had legal pot sales the longest and it is showing the greatest effect," said Moore. "Meanwhile, Oregon has had pot sales for the shortest amount of time, so its increase is the lowest, but that could change over time." 

The increase in the accident rate for the states that have approved marijuana has always been suggested as a possibility. The direct result of the auto insurance claims going up by 3% in those states suggests that this is the case. However, it is not proof of cause and effect. One of the problems in proving this theory is that there is no field sobriety test for being high on marijuana. 

Marijuana advocates were critical of the findings in the study. Mason Tvert, a marijuana legalization advocate and communications director with the Marijuana Policy Project, questioned the findings.

"The study raises more questions than it provides answers, and it's an area that would surely receive more study, and deservedly so," Tvert said. 

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