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Study: Legalizing Marijuana Reduces Traffic Deaths


 According to a study by University of Colorado Denver Professor Daniel Rees and Montana State University Assistant Professor D. Mark Anderson, legalizing weed reduces traffic deaths by reducing alcohol consumption. That's right, legalizing pot reduced traffic deaths by a stunning 9%, and reduced beer consumption by 5%. 

The study is the first to analyze the relationship between marijuana legalization and traffic deaths.  Researchers used data from many sources, including the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. 

From the press release:

The economists analyzed traffic fatalities nationwide, including the 13 states that legalized medical marijuana between 1990 and 2009. In those states, they found evidence that alcohol consumption by 20- through 29-year-olds went down, resulting in fewer deaths on the road.

“Our research suggests that the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities through reducing alcohol consumption by young adults,” said Daniel Rees, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver and the study's co-author.

From the press release:

The economists noted that simulator studies conducted by previous researchers suggest that drivers under the influence of alcohol tend to underestimate how badly their skills are impaired. They drive faster and take more risks. In contrast, these studies show that drivers under the influence of marijuana tend to avoid risks. However, Rees and Anderson cautioned that legalization of medical marijuana may result in fewer traffic deaths because it's typically used in private, while alcohol is often consumed at bars and restaurants.

But consuming marijuana in private does not mean that people smoke and stay home, only that weed is illegal and people must be careful not to be caught while smoking it. What's more, in states where medical marijuana is legal and card carrying patients may smoke wherever they please, discretion loses its importance. Also, let's be honest: How many times do pot smokers, particularly hose who live with their parents, smoke in cars? 

Andersen noted how important the study is to policy, which is clearly flawed.

“Traffic fatalities are an important outcome from a policy perspective because they represent the leading cause of death among Americans ages five to 34,” he said.

Reducing alcohol consumption is not only positive because it reduces traffic deaths, but also because alcohol isfar more dangerous and addicting than marijuana (which is neither).  So, legalizing pot would not create the terrifyingly stoned (and behind the wheel!)  and dangerous Reefer Madness kind-of society prohibitionists want Americans to believe it would. Actually, it would make us a little bit safer -- and that's not to mention how eliminating incarceration for marijuana charges would benefit  communities and society at large. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at November 29, 2011, 11:18am