States that legalize medical marijuana see fewer fatal car accidents, according to a new study, in part because people may be substituting marijuana smoking for drinking alcohol.
Comparing traffic deaths over time in states with and without medical marijuana law changes, the researchers found that fatal car wrecks dropped by 9% in states that legalized medical use — which was largely attributable to a decline in drunk driving. The researchers controlled for other factors like changes in driving laws and the number of miles driven that could affect the results.
Medical marijuana laws were not significantly linked with changes in daytime crash rates or those that didn’t involve alcohol. But the rate of fatal crashes in which a driver had consumed any alcohol dropped 12% after medical marijuana was legalized, and crashes involving high levels of alcohol consumption fell 14%.
The authors also found that in states that legalized medical use, there was no increase in marijuana smoking by teenagers — a finding seen in other studies as well. But, in many cases, the laws were linked with an increase in marijuana smoking among adults in their 20s; this rise was accompanied by a reduction in alcohol use by college age youth, suggesting that they were smoking weed instead.
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