States that legalized the medical use of marijuana have had a drop in deadly automobile crashes, suggesting that some people who would otherwise drive drunk and kill someone are smoking weed instead, according to research by three economists.
It’s not clear if the would-be drunken drivers are high behind the wheel with less deadly results, or if they’re simply not driving.
The research by professors at the University of Colorado-Denver, Montana State University and the University of Oregon looked at traffic deaths from 1990 to 2009 in all 50 states, including the 16 that passed medical marijuana laws.
“Legalization is associated with nearly a 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely as a result of its impact on alcohol consumption by young adults,” the researchers said in the report, published in November.
Advocates of a medical-marijuana law could tout the study’s findings as a societal benefit of legalization. Opponents, however, could say that the study shows what they’ve argued all along — that a medical-marijuana law makes marijuana more available for recreational use.
This year is a short legislative session in Connecticut, which means that individual lawmakers may only introduce bills that have to do with budgetary matters. Other bills have to be introduced by the legislature’s judiciary committee.
“My sense is that they will raise a bill because I know there’s interest from the governor’s office in doing a medical-marijuana bill this year,” said state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, who has been a longtime supporter of allowing people to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, such as relieving pain.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is a supporter of the concept of medical marijuana, said Malloy spokesman David Bednarz.
“The administration is still reviewing the legislation that he intends on introducing this year,” Bednarz said.
Substitute For Alcohol
Traffic deaths are declining, on average, throughout the nation.
The drop in fatalities after a medical-marijuana law passed was greater than the drop in the other states.
“You get a much bigger effect on accidents involving alcohol, fatal accidents involving alcohol,” said Daniel I. Rees, a co-author and an economics professor at the University of Colorado-Denver.
The study asserts that states that have medical-marijuana laws are allowing some people to access marijuana for recreational purposes, either through the system as would-be patients or illegally because of a bolstered supply of marijuana in the state after the law passes.
Some of those recreational users are drinking less.
Rees and the other researchers looked at surveys by state health departments and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asked people about their drinking behavior.
“The legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 9 percent reduction in the mean number of drinks consumed per month by males, [and] a 12 percent reduction in the mean number of drinks consumed by females,” the researchers wrote.
The study looked at alcohol sales, too.
“What we see is beer sales go down by about 5 percent,” Rees said. “That’s just an average effect.”
“The reason we think this is really interesting is there’s no effect on the sale of spirits and there’s no effect on the sale of wine,” Rees said. “And beer, of course, is the most popular drink among young adults. So, it sort of fits in with this whole substitution story among young adults.”
It’s possible that the states that passed medical-marijuana laws have a drop in traffic deaths because law enforcement is freed up to spend more time patroling for drunken drivers. But that’s a stretch, Rees said. For one thing, a change in law enforcement’s behavior wouldn’t explain an actual drop in alcohol sales or drinking behavior.
California was the first state to pass a medical marijuana law in 1996. Since then, laws have been passed by Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state.
Arizona, Delaware, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., aren’t part of the study because those governments passed laws since 2009, the end of the 20-year period examined in the study. Additionally, Maryland passed a law in 2003 that doesn’t allow medical marijuana, but permits a person charged with a marijuana-related crime to claim medicinal use for a more lenient penalty.
In Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a medical-marijuana bill in 2007.
Last year, a bill had Malloy’s support. The medical-marijuana bill failed, but the legislature passed a bill that decriminalized possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana.
The decriminalization took effect July 1, 2011. Before that, possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana was punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The medical-marijuana bill that was considered last year would have allowed people with a “debilitating medical condition” to ask their doctor for certification allowing use of marijuana.
People with certification could own up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants no more than 4 feet tall. The certification would be good for one year, and the bill would prohibit use of medicinal marijuana in public.
“I believe medical marijuana is a compassionate and useful law for the state of Connecticut,” Bacchiochi said. “But all these studies are never what change legislators’ minds. What changes somebody’s mind on this issue is a personal experience.”
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Source: The Hartford Courant
Author: Matthew Sturdevant
Copyright: Copyright © 2011 Tribune Company.