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Colorado’s Marijuana Legalization and Auto Fatality Rates

Posted in Blog on September 4, 2014

The state of Colorado legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2009 and for recreational purposes on Nov. 6, 2012, the day when the state passed Amendment 64 to its constitution. Since that time, much media attention has been paid to whether the legalization has had any impact on the state’s auto fatality rates, but with dueling information, the jury may still be out.

Studies and the Media Influence

A study released in May of 2014, conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, concluded that the legalization of medical marijuana in 2009 might have caused the traffic fatality rate in the state to rise.

Researchers analyzed data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System for the years 1994 through 2011. They compared fatal crash rates with marijuana and alcohol impaired drivers in Colorado to that of 34 other states that don’t have medical marijuana laws.

According to the results of the study, 4.5 percent of fatal accidents in Colorado during the first six months of 1994 involved at least one driver who tested positive for marijuana. This percentage rose significantly, to 10 percent, during the second half of 2011, suggesting that since the 2009 legalization of medical marijuana, an increase in marijuana-related fatalities has occurred.

Another study conducted by Columbia University and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in early 2014, reported that in 20 states with medical marijuana laws, drivers who died in an accident in 2010 were three times more likely to have the drug in their system than drivers who died before 1999.

Naturally, these studies have caused some alarm among the public and law enforcement, so the media is somewhat reflecting this panic. Initial reports of Keith Kilbey, the driver who crashed into parked police cars, cited his marijuana use but did not mention his alcohol intoxication. At the time of the crash, Kilbey had a blood alcohol level of 0.268, over three times Colorado’s limit of 0.08.

The Other Side of the Coin

As reported by Radley Balko of the Washington Post in August of 2014, the studies may not be enough to prove that marijuana use raises fatality rates because of some fundamental testing limits. Testing for marijuana in the body is done by looking for metabolites, which linger in a person’s system for days or even weeks after the drug has been used. It is unknown whether the drivers in these studies were still under the intoxicating effects of marijuana at the time of their accidents because each driver’s body would metabolize the substance differently.

Balko, using data from the Colorado Department of Transportation, found that traffic fatalities in Colorado are actually down across the first seven months of 2014, and lower overall when compared to the average rates over the last thirteen years.

It appears more conclusive data is needed before a solid conclusion can be drawn between the use of marijuana and fatal traffic accidents. What is certain is that no one should be using intoxicating substances right before he or she gets behind the wheel. Learn more about filing a claim at: www.zanerhardenlaw.com.

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