Authorities are seeing more car crashes in states with legalized marijuana, particularly those states that were among the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
At this time, the use of marijuana by American adults has almost doubled, rising from 7 percent in 2013 to 13 percent in 2018, according to a Gallup study. Marijuana is used for both medical and recreational purposes in several states.
The number of auto accidents in the states that first permitted recreational use of cannabis – Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington – are up by as much as six percent compared to neighboring states where recreational use of cannabis is still illegal (according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute).
Another study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) examined police-reported car crashes during the period 2012-16. This study included time before retail sales of marijuana began in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. The IIHS has estimated that there was a 5.2 percent increase in the rate of auto accidents per million vehicle registrations compared to surrounding states that did not legalize marijuana for recreational use. This increase rate is consistent with the 6 percent increase in insurance claim rates that were estimated by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
Several states that were not included in the study also legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults and medical use of marijuana. These include Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and the District of Columbia. An additional 21 states allow medical use of marijuana, and 15 states permit the use of particular cannabis products for certain medical conditions. Other states are currently analyzing legalization.
Despite legalization of marijuana use for various purposes, driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal in all states and the District of Columbia. The challenge associated with prosecuting driving under the influence of cannabis is proving the level of impairment under which the driver is operating a vehicle. The amount of marijuana in an individual’s system does not exert consistent impairment from one person to the next, unlike alcohol. The component of cannabis that affects driving is Tetrahydrocannabinol. Testing for the presence of this component in a person’s blood does not prove that the driver was under the influence of the drug at the time of the car crash. A regular user of cannabis may test positive for this component for many days after using the drug.
Because it is difficult to assess the role of marijuana in car crashes – quite different from the clear connection between blood alcohol level and impairment – it is difficult to draw incontrovertible conclusions. It is far less common that drivers in auto accidents are tested for marijuana than for alcohol. Tests often demonstrate that other drugs are present with alcohol, making it difficult to isolate the specific impact of each drug.
Clearly, additional study and reliable testing standards are in order to allow law enforcement to consistently and positively assess the level of marijuana impairment in a particular auto accident. Yet, the evidence points to the conclusion that legalizing marijuana in a state contributes to an increase in the number of accidents in the state. This data should be considered by any state’s legislature when considering legalization of recreational marijuana. It can only be hoped that demonstration of more car crashes in states with legalized marijuana will be an element of their consideration.
If you or a loved one is injured in a car crash with a driver impaired by marijuana, call Altizer Law, P.C. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and other damages. Trusted auto accident attorney Bettina Altizer and her team will meet with you and evaluate your case. If you hire us, Bettina will represent you aggressively in negotiation or in court.