How has driving changed in the states that have legalized marijuana?
It has been more than two years since Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana in November 2012. Alaska and Oregon have more recently followed in their footsteps, along with the District of Columbia, which now allows possession of small amounts of marijuana. In honor of 4/20, or what some people might call “Weed Day“, we wanted to compile a post on where these states are now in terms of driving and marijuana usage. Has legalization led to reckless driving? Have fatalities gone up? And just how different is marijuana from alcohol in terms of driving?
Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have alllegalized marijuana in some way but their laws are in no way the same. After this legalization, some may conjure up an image of hippies sitting around in a circle, beating on bongos and smoking their precious Mary Jane but in reality these states’ marijuana laws are quite strict. Each state has different legalities. In Colorado, for example, you can grow up to 6 marijuana plants, but in Washington you are not allowed to grow any plants at all. So while some might assume that these states all carry the same laws regarding marijuana, it is important to note that their differences are quite salient:
These intricate and differing rules governing recreational marijuana can be confusing—but because these laws are so new, and only at the state level, it is hard to have any sort of standardization.
Marijuana impacts your senses,
causing impaired judgement and slower reaction time.
(so they say)
Mary Jane on The Road
The legalization of marijuana leads to a lot of concerns regarding “drugged driving”–what happens when people get behind the wheel with marijuana in their system? Ever since marijuana has been legalized, prohibition supporters and Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-marijuana legalization group, have stated that more drivers are being found with marijuana in their system. They have even gone to point out studies showing that there is an increase in the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana who have been involved in a fatal car crash.
The problems with these studies are that this “increase in the number of drivers testing positive” could just have to do with the fact that more people are smoking pot in general. You would expect for the number of pot smokers to increase with legalized marijuana laws and with the overall population smoking more marijuana it is easy to understand why more of the driver population is smoking marijuana as well. So, it is hard to say whether or not the use of marijuana is actually contributing to these crashes.
Also when looking at the car fatalities from 2011-2013 in Colorado and Washington we have seen that total fatalities have gone down. In Colorado, fatalities jumped from 2011 to 2012 but then dropped again in 2013. And in Washington, fatalities have been gradually decreasing since 2011. Of course these continuing drops in roadway fatalities could be due to some other factors like better built cars or improved infrastructure. But if these states were seeing higher fatalities than before legalization, there’s no doubt that prohibition supporters and SAM might blame the increase on legalized marijuana.
Another problem is that these states are attempting to compare “marijuana-impaired driving” with drunk driving. The Colorado Department of Transportationhas stated on their website that there is a legal limit for marijuana impairment while driving: