Neither the legalization of adult-use cannabis nor the uptick in retail sales is correlated with an increase in car accidents, NORML reports. The data comes from a study published earlier this month in the Drug and Alcohol Review.
Canadian scientists looked at the number of traffic accidents in Toronto both in the years prior to and then directly after the city legalized adult-use cannabis.
According to their report: “[N]either the CCA [Canadian Cannabis Act] nor the NCS [number of cannabis stores per capita] is associated with concomitant changes in (traffic safety) outcomes. … During the first year of the CRUL’s [cannabis recreational use laws] implementation in Toronto, no significant changes in crashes, number of road victims and KSI [all road users killed or severely injured] were observed.”
In the U.S., the risk of increased car crashes due to stoned driving is often cited as a reason not to legalize adult-use cannabis. Throughout the years, various studies have reported conflicting information and led to different results depending on whom you ask and what their position on cannabis is. For example, a 2021 U.S. study suggested that auto accident rates rose in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, where recreational cannabis use and retail sales are legal, as Newsweek reported. However, if you read the entire article, you notice that at the end, it mentions that the study in question, which used information from injured drivers in emergency rooms in Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California, only saw an increase in car accidents when cannabis was paired with alcohol.
According to the CDC, in 2020, 11,654 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers, which accounted for 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S. The annual estimated cost of car crash deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers totaled about $123.3 billion in 2020, including the estimate for lives lost and medical bills. Not only is alcohol legal, but it’s not beholden to the same insane tax laws as cannabis, which, by strangling the legal market, only seem to allow the black market to flourish. The cannabis industry paid over $1.8 billion in additional taxes in 2022 alone.
The findings of the Toronto Drug and Alcohol Review study are consistent with other Canadian research. For instance, a 2021 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence “found no evidence that the implementation of the Cannabis Act [which legalized adult-use in Canada] was associated with significant changes in post-legalization patterns of all drivers’ traffic-injury ED [emergency department] visits or, more specifically, youth-driver traffic-injury ED presentations.” As NORML points out, another study published earlier this year similarly concluded, “Overall, there is no clear evidence that RCL [recreational cannabis laws] had any effect on rates of ED visits and hospitalizations for either motor vehicle or pedestrian/cyclist injury across Canada.”
However, in the U.S., insights into the correlation between cannabis legalization and traffic accidents tend to bend to meet Republicans’ regressive and scientifically unsound views. As Benzinga reports, regarding a 2023 bill meant to curb Connecticut’s legal market, State Senator Paul Cicarella (R), a ranking member of the Public Safety and Security Committee, told NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck: “There’s not really a test that can determine when somebody is under the influence of the marijuana,” he said, adding that that the “false positive rate and false negative rate is so high that again, that might be a challenge to be admissible in court as well.”
The race is indeed on to create a THC breathalyzer. However, anti-cannabis lawmakers fail to grasp that people are already using cannabis, whether it’s legal or not. While cannabis is considered a generally safe substance, like any mind-altering drug, of course, one should consider safety measures such as driving and always using it responsibly. However, if the U.S. truly wants to focus on safety, its priority should be correcting tax laws and legalization on a Federal level because unless that happens, there won’t be a legal market to study.