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Study: Legal cannabis hasn’t increased fatal car crashes



A recent statistical analysis from the publication Quartz Advisors found that traffic fatalities declined or remained constant after states adopted recreational cannabis laws. The analysis—focused on four states that legalized marijuana in 2016—compared accident fatalities in those states with the national average, as well as with five states where cannabis remained illegal.

In contrast to the narrative that legalization may lead to increased dangers on the road, researchers found that in the three years following legalization, traffic fatalities did not increase. 

Could cannabis legalization increase fatal accidents?  

As advocates push to reschedule, decriminalize, or legalize cannabis, their opponents frequently claim that more legal cannabis will lead to more fatalities on the road. Research has shown, however, that cannabis can mildly impair driving ability, especially for individuals who aren’t regular cannabis users. 

Still, research has not conclusively tied legalization to increases in fatal accidents. The statistical analysis from Quartz Advisors—a business advisory group that provides evidence-based analyses—investigated whether this worry is grounded in any real data. 

… they examined four states which all fully legalized cannabis in 2016: California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

Using data on fatal car crashes in the US sourced from the National Safety Council, Quartz researchers looked for a positive correlation between those numbers and cannabis legalization. To do this, they examined four states which all fully legalized cannabis in 2016: California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. They then compared traffic fatalities in these states with both the national average and with five states where cannabis remained illegal after 2016: Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. 


Taking Drugged Driving Seriously: What Does the Science Say?

At first glance, an increased fatality risk

Initially, it seemed like Quartz had discovered evidence that would bolster claims made by opponents of legalization. Between 2016 and 2021, researchers found a 6% increase in vehicular deaths in the states with legal cannabis, compared with a 0.7% decrease in the states where cannabis remained illegal. 

But after they controlled for anomalies that occurred during the first two years of the COVID pandemic—2020 and 2021—they realized that the data painted a radically different picture. 

graph of effects of marijuana legalization on traffic fatalaties

2020 and 2021 were strange years for all kinds of data. The pandemic shifted our normal patterns and changed many aspects of daily life; we have to account for how it skewed comparative data. That’s certainly the case for traffic fatalities, which spiked 18.9% throughout the US during these years. Due to this irregularity, Quartz researchers decided to look at the three years following legalization separate from COVID-impacted numbers.

As a result, the data looked starkly different. None of the four states that had legalized cannabis saw an increase in vehicular deaths during this time. In fact, traffic fatalities in these states fell by an average of 11.6% in the three years following legalization. Maine showed no change after legalization, while Massachusetts saw the largest reduction in fatalities: 28.9% fewer vehicular deaths.

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That number marked a larger reduction than the national average of a 10.6% reduction during that time. Significantly, the states that didn’t legalize saw a 1.7% increase in vehicular deaths during the same period. 

chart noting percent change in traffic fatality rates from 2016 to 2019

Cannabis legalization didn’t increase fatal accidents…but that’s not a license to drive under the influence

While this data does not support the assumption that legal cannabis will increase driving fatalities, it is also limited in its scope: It does not take into account all the states which have introduced legal cannabis, and it only accounts for the three years immediately following legalization. 

Its conclusions nonetheless track with other, broader research studies, like this 2022 Canadian report aimed at informing the insurance industry. That report found no reason to shift the models that insurance companies use for predicting traffic accidents after decriminalization occurs, and no statistically significant changes in Canada or in US states that legalized cannabis.

Lastly, we cannot stress enough that this data does not suggest that driving under the influence of cannabis is safe. Many studies have found that cannabis can impair your driving ability (although some studies have also found that cannabis impairment tends to induce less risk-taking behavior, unlike alcohol). 

People under the influence of cannabis may drive slower and keep a distance from other cars—even if it impairs their coordination and visual functions. This may reduce the likelihood of dangerous crashes under cannabis’ influence. Alcohol, on the other hand, despite being fully legal in the US, remains a factor in nearly one third of all driving fatalities. 

The authors of this analysis framed their conclusion in the plainest terms: Among the possible concerns offered for keeping cannabis illegal, they wrote, “the effect that legal marijuana could have on traffic safety should not be one of those concerns.”

So what did cause those road fatalities during COVID?

Speeding. According to Reuters, “As US roads became less crowded during the pandemic, some motorists perceived police as less likely to issue tickets, experts said, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads.”

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in 2023 that speeding caused nearly 1 in 3 road deaths, and hit a 14-year-high in 2021. Take it slow out there, this holiday season, Leafly Nation. Better to arrive late than not at all.

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Data Shows How THC Affects Driving




With recreational marijuana in 24 states and medical marijuana in 40, legal cannabis is widely available. Now data shows how THC affects driving thanks to a landmark study.  It includes CBD and provides sound guidelines for consumers before they get behind the wheel of a car.

suggests that low doses of CBD don’t have an influence on people’s capabilities to drive. It also found that while THC is capable of impairing drivers, the effects wear off within a period of four hours.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to analyze the impact CBD has on driving, while also providing more information as to how THC affects us behind the wheel.

“These findings indicate for the first time that CBD, when given without THC, does not affect a subject’s ability to drive. That’s great news for those using or considering treatment using CBD-based products,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Thomas Arkell.

Could CBD Cause Impaired Driving?
Photo by William Krause via Unsplash

Researchers examined 26 healthy adults who were given four different types of inhaled vaporized cannabis at random. The cannabis administered was made up of different mixes of THC, CBD and placebo cannabis, with no active components. These volunteers were then asked to go on a drive for about an hour in a public highway, under controlled but realistic conditions, driving a dual control car alongside a driving instructor. Participants had to go on two separate drives, one done after 40 minutes of having consumed and the other four hours after consumption.

RELATED: Driving With Kids In Your Car Can Lead To Felony Charges If You Have THC In Your System

Results revealed that subjects who consumed strains comprised of pure CBD were not impaired at any time while driving. Subjects who consumed strains made up of CBD and THC or pure THC, however, experienced mild impairment on their first drive, 40 minutes after consuming it. When these subjects went on their second drive, four hours after consumption, there was no noticeable impairment.

“With cannabis laws changing globally, jurisdictions are grappling with the issue of cannabis-impaired driving. These results provide much needed insights into the magnitude and duration of impairment caused by different types of cannabis and can help to guide road-safety policy not just in Australia but around the world,” said Dr. Arkell.

RELATED: Colorado Marijuana Users Think Stoned Driving Policies Are Out Of Touch

Driving while under the influence of THC has been a much discussed topic. Industry manufacturers are working on devices capable of measuring THC intoxication, but the technology isn’t there. In the meantime, more information and studies are needed in order to learn about the subject, to correctly measure the amount of THC that’s in person and to provide guidance in how to handle them if they’re caught driving.

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10 Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis Traffic Study – Cannabis | Weed | Marijuana




We have yet another study claiming that cannabis-related traffic injuries have increased since Canada legalized cannabis.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, looked at cannabis and emergency room visits for traffic injuries between 2010 and 2021 in Ontario.

“Our data is raising concern about a growing problem of cannabis impairment and severe road injuries,” said lead author Dr. Daniel Myran. “Since 2010, there has been a very, very large increase in cannabis involvement and traffic injury visits in Ontario.”

But has there been? Or is this a case of increased reporting since legalization?

Let’s give Dr. Myran the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that cannabis-related traffic injuries have increased since legalization.

Does this study prove it? 

Not by a long shot. There are at least ten things wrong with this latest cannabis traffic study.

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis-Traffic Study

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis-Traffic Study

In scientific inquiry, the gold standard is randomized control trials (RCTs). An RCT establishes cause and effect. This latest cannabis traffic study was not an RCT.

10. Lack of Randomization

This observational study cannot establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between cannabis legalization and traffic injury ED visits. Without randomization, the researchers cannot rule out confounding variables.

Like, for example, whether legalization means people are more comfortable reporting their cannabis use. As opposed to before, if you’re in an emergency room for a traffic accident, no way in hell would you admit you were consuming illegal drugs right before the incident.

9. Causality in Cannabis Traffic Study

This study looks at different periods (pre-legalization, legalization before edibles, legalization “commercialization”) and changes in traffic injury ED visits. But, as mentioned, nowhere in the study do the authors establish a clear causal link.

Let’s reiterate that. You might have been given a different impression because of media headlines and quotes from the lead author. This study does not establish a causal link between cannabis legalization and increased ED visits.

They ignore entirely other factors, such as changes in enforcement and public awareness. These are two significant factors to consider. Law enforcement has far more tools to detect stoned drivers than they did before 2018. 

As well, busybodies who can’t yell at people for not wearing masks anymore have to focus their attention elsewhere. Narcing on suspected stoned drivers is one outlet. Even well-intentioned individuals might call the authorities if they believe a stoned driver is dangerous to themselves or others on the road.

8. Control Group 

This study uses alcohol-involved traffic injury ED visits as a control group. There are several problems with this. One, like the above problem, control groups may be influenced by external factors, such as changes in alcohol consumption patterns.

Two, without a genuinely inert control group, the authors cannot attribute changes solely to cannabis legalization. A control group is supposed to provide a baseline or reference point against which the researchers can compare the effects of an intervention (or exposure).

For this study’s control group to be helpful, researchers would need a control group that experiences no changes from cannabis legalization. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Hence, observational studies like this one use a “similar” control group. 

The idea is to control for as many variables as possible and adjust for confounding factors. While this approach may help researchers draw conclusions, it can’t establish causation. It does not justify some of the statements people make about this study.

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis Traffic Study

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis-Traffic Study

7. Data Sources Used in Cannabis Traffic Study

Like most studies, they rely on administrative and bureaucratic databases for their information. However, these databases can introduce biases and inaccuracies. From underreporting to misclassification. All of which affect the study’s validity.

For example, the study does not list which strains were more likely to “cause” traffic accidents. As well, what about the cannabinoid content? And how was some of this information collected? If I’m in a traffic accident, but there’s THC in my system from an edible I ate 48 hours before, will nurses check the “cannabis” box?

What if police find a bunch of CBD joints in my car, and I admit I was smoking before the accident? Do hospital admin staff know the differences between the various cannabinoids and their effects? Or is everything just lumped under “cannabis?” 

6. Ecological Fallacy

One of this study’s more egregious claims comes from concluding individual behaviour from population-level data. This is known as the ecological fallacy, where someone makes inferences about individuals based on group-level data.

The researchers of this study did not consider individual-level factors, attitudes, and behaviours related to cannabis consumption and driving. 

Depending on your philosophical worldview, methodological individualism is the only proper method of the social sciences, which makes this cannabis traffic study even more useless than it already was.

5. Temporal Confounding in Cannabis Traffic Study

This cannabis-traffic study links cannabis legalization to increases in traffic ED visits. However, some of their data is confounded by covid restrictions affecting mobility, traffic, and healthcare resources. In research circles, we call this temporal confounding.

One of the best (and most common) examples is the relationship between ice cream sales and drownings at a local beach. You can observe that as ice cream sales increase, so does the number of drownings.

Suppose you were one of the authors of this cannabis traffic study. You’d probably conclude that eating ice cream causes an increase in drownings. However, when you consider the seasons, you realize ice cream sales and beach drownings increase during summer.

It’s not ice cream causing drownings. It’s the weather driving both variables. Now, consider this cannabis traffic study.

The increase in cannabis-involved traffic injury ED visits occurred during the “commercialization” phase of legalization. But that also coincided with covid-19 (March 2020 to December 2021).

During the pandemic, people altered their travel patterns, work situations, relationships, and healthcare-seeking behaviours. These changes might have affected the likelihood of traffic injuries and the reporting of cannabis involvement.

Temporal confounding makes it impossible to attribute the observed increase solely to cannabis commercialization. Without considering the pandemic’s effects, the study overestimates the impact of cannabis commercialization on traffic injuries.

4. Limited Scope

This cannabis-traffic study focuses on associating cannabis legalization with traffic injury ED visits. It doesn’t delve into other factors, such as changes in road safety measures, increased construction, increased traffic, poor driver education, or public awareness campaigns.

It also doesn’t consider that substances, like cannabis or alcohol, are proximate causes of traffic injury ED visits. The ultimate cause is the road owner’s irresponsible road management.

Blaming cannabis is like blaming bullets for a mass shooting. You don’t blame the inanimate object. You condemn the conscious agent making the choice.

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis Traffic Study

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis-Traffic Study

3. Generalizability

This study is specific to Ontario, Canada. It may not apply to regions with different legalization policies and traffic regulations. 

2. Sample Size 

This cannabis traffic study and the media headlines are forgoing one crucial fact. Cannabis-involved traffic injury ED visits are rare. They represent 0.04% of all visits. Not only is this a non-issue, but the sample size is too limited for the researchers to make these false claims.

1. Ethical Considerations in Cannabis Traffic Study

As mentioned, this study relied on administrative and bureaucratic databases for their information. Databases that can introduce biases and inaccuracies.

But more so, using healthcare data without informed consent raises ethical concerns. If you’re concerned about the potential for privacy breaches, you should lie to your doctor or healthcare professional.

Don’t want your cannabis use to be a statistic in the latest reefer madness study? Lie to your doctor or healthcare professional.

Of course, this creates its own set of problems. This is why researchers should not be using this data without informed consent. 

And they certainly shouldn’t be drawing causal conclusions from observational research. 

Ten Things Wrong with the Latest Cannabis Traffic Study

Angry Nurse
Fun must be approved by your local public health authority

This cannabis traffic study may provide some insights into trends. But that’s all it would be. An observed trend that is limited by methodology and confounding factors.

So you can safely ignore the “475% increase in cannabis-related traffic accidents” headline making its way through the corporate press.

No causal relationship exists between cannabis legalization and cannabis-involved traffic injury ED visits in Ontario. Full stop.

However, discovering the truth was not the goal of this study. Like so much of modern “Science,” the goal is to influence policy. As the study concludes,

Our findings suggest that measures to control access to cannabis products and stores may help prevent cannabis involvement in traffic injuries.

In other words, our faulty study ignores the failure of road socialism. Instead, it suggests we’ll have to limit an already restricted cannabis market.

For your own good, of course.

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Traveling with weed? Here’s some tips for the 2023 season




More folks enjoy cannabis legalization in more states than ever before. The downside? A patchwork of state and federal laws and rules on trains, planes, and automobiles.

As America herds through a record year for travel, Leafly is here to keep pace with the changes. Listen to our updated rules for hitting the road or flying with weed in 2023—via this interview with Los Angeles’ National Public Radio affiliate KCRW.

“There are a lot of people taking personal amounts of cannabis on domestic flights,” I told KCRW.

Tap the play button to listen along to KCRW’s segment.

Here are the tips in the audio:

Don’t break federal or state laws. Check the laws here.

Know the legal limits

You can have up to one ounce on you in California. More than that can trigger consequences. Airport security defers to local police, who will enforce state law. 

Scofflaws should avoid attention

Airport security is focused on finding guns and bombs, not your bomb herb. Avoid packing glass jars, metal grinders, or liquids over a few ounces—all of which TSA draws airport screener attention. For example, packing too much shampoo can trigger a bag check, and then the marijuana they find gets dragged into it.


Hittin’ the road: Summer travel cannabis gear guide 2023

Vapes on a plane

Savvy travelers pack vapes in their carry-on. Vape batteries in checked baggage will be confiscated as a fire risk. You will be arrested for vaping in airports and on planes, so abstain until you arrive at your destination.

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Respect international borders

Cannabis remains illegal in Mexico and other states. Taking it across borders can mess your trip up. Obviously, don’t bring THC to Russia or Singapore.

On the road—put the THC in the trunk

The law is similar to alcohol—open containers get you in trouble. Unopened weed bags in the trunk are legal in legalization states. You don’t want a half-burned joint on the dashboard.

Respect all traffic laws

Don’t speed or road rage with weed in the car. Smell alone no longer provides probable cause to search a car. But driver behavior could trigger further questioning.

Respect state lines

Prohibition states like Idaho will arrest you for a vape cart that’s legal in California. Mind the map.

Read even more details in Leafly’s collection of travel-related cannabis consumer tips below.

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