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Insurance study ties legal pot to boost in car crash claims

23 June 2017

A new study shows that states that have legalized recreational marijuana use are seeing an increase in reported accidents.

Traffic fatalities are not surging in states where weed is now legal, and the rate of traffic deaths dropped in most states after legalizing medical marijuana.

Two studies conducted in the states where marijuana is allowed recreationally came to different conclusions about whether it increases risks for drivers.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a leading insurance research group, released a study that links increased auto crash claims to legalized recreational marijuana.

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According to the group's statistics, crash rates have spiked in Colorado, Washington and OR by 16 percent, 6.2 percent, and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Though there's evidence from simulator and on-road studies that marijuana can degrade some aspects of driving performance, researchers haven't been able to definitively connect marijuana use with more frequent real-world crashes.

In recent years, some states that legalized pot, such as Colorado, have launched extensive advertising campaigns warning of the dangers marijuana poses to kids and teenagers, and also the risks of driving while high.

Smoking marijuana is still widely stigmatized in the United States, and it's possible that people stay home when they use this drug, instead of going out to the bars the way people do when they drink alcohol, he added. However, researchers have been unable to definitively connect the use of marijuana and auto crashes. OR voters approved legalized recreational marijuana in November 2014, and sales started in October 2015. After Colorado legalized retail marijuana, the uptick in collision-claim frequency was 14 percent higher than in adjacent Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming.

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The HLDI said it's preparing for more of these studies and has already begun a "large-scale case-control study" in OR to find out if usage could be causing automotive injuries.

Twenty-one states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs. They compared these rates to those of eight control states that had not enacted any significant changes in their marijuana laws.

Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and older with voter approval in November 2012.

"We certainly know it's never good to use an impairing substance and then drive, but marijuana affects the body very differently than other drugs do", Griffin said. You have encouraged us in our mission - to provide quality news and watchdog journalism.

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