18 Jul Driving High in the Mile High State
Marijuana was approved in Colorado for medical use in 2009 and for recreational use in 2013. The state is among the first to open its doors to marijuana users and is therefore something of an experiment in terms of evaluating how such a move will affect the lives of its residents.
A study connected with the University of Colorado School of Medicine has found that since introducing marijuana into the mainstream, more high drivers have lost or taken lives on Colorado highways.
Researchers used figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in order to compare traffic fatalities in Colorado with highway deaths in 34 states where any type of marijuana use (including medical marijuana) remains illegal. Investigators examined vehicular deaths from 1994-2011 where at least one person behind the wheel tested positive for the drug. These dates would be useful in evaluating the impact of medical marijuana use only since recreational use was not permitted until the late months of 2013.
The research revealed that back in early 1994 just 4.5 percent of highway accidents involved a marijuana-positive driver. By the end of 2011 however, figures showed that 10 percent of all crashes in Colorado involved a marijuana-using driver. Thus, during the years when medical marijuana use became permissible, the number of traffic accidents connected to marijuana use more than doubled.
Not only were more high drivers involved in car accidents, there were more marijuana-linked traffic deaths as well. The study found that traffic fatalities linked to marijuana use rose sharply after the drug was given the approval for medical use in 2009. The rise was especially troubling when viewed in comparison to the 34 states where medical marijuana use remains prohibited.
The study does not itself establish a causal relationship between traffic fatalities and medical marijuana use, but it does shine a spotlight on the increased dangers of driving high. And given the likelihood that far more Colorado citizens will use marijuana recreationally than ever did medicinally, chances are that traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities will escalate even further.
More research needs to be done before the nation can draw firm conclusions. However, for now, it is warning enough that allowing citizens to use marijuana to ease the pain of illness will translate into more healthy citizens being injured and killed on highways by marijuana-using patients.
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