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New Study Finds That Legal States Have Lower Rates of Cannabis-Impaired Driving

June 24, 2022 08:00 am ET
New Study Finds That Legal States Have Lower Rates of Cannabis-Impaired Driving

One of the arguments against the legalization of cannabis is that it may result in more impaired drivers on the road, but emerging research is indicating otherwise. While it’s true that cannabis impacts various driving-related skills, a recent study published in Preventative Medicine Reports found that states with legal cannabis actually had fewer impaired driving incidents.

Are People Driving High?

Lauren Dutra, Matthew Farrelly, and their colleagues stated in the study’s report that the relationship between cannabis legalization and traffic safety remains unclear. Their research aimed to address some of this uncertainty and ultimately found that states with legal cannabis programs see less impaired driving. Their study made use of self-reported data concerning driving under the influence of cannabis (DUIC) from a national sample of 1,249 participants who had consumed cannabis in the past 30 days. 

The research team discovered that 12.1% of participants in recreational states, 52.4% in medical-only states, and 35.5% in fully illegal states were likely to drive within three hours of consuming cannabis. This indicates that states with fully legalized cannabis have significantly lower rates of “high” individuals on the road. The study’s bivariate analyses by legalization indicated “higher levels of DUIC in states without legal cannabis (40.3%) than in recreational (29.2%) and medical (27.3%) states.” 

While medical-cannabis-only states did have a high number of consumers DUIC, the main takeaway remains that states with legalized cannabis have lower risks of “self-reported DUIC” in “recreational and medical cannabis states compared to states without legal cannabis.” But how do they explain the fact that medical-only states had such a high prevalence of DUIC? The authors suggest that this could be due to “differential exposure to DUIC educational campaigns” and “variation in the regulation of cannabis product labeling across medical and recreational states.” 

A Need for More Cannabis Education

According to the report, “Current cannabis users in recreational and medical only cannabis states were significantly less likely to report driving within three hours of getting high in the past 30 days, compared to current users living in states without legal cannabis.” The researchers explain, “One potential explanation for lower prevalence of DUIC in legal states is perceived safety of cannabis use, which is associated with DUIC and varies by legalization.”

Education appears to play a major role in this. The team explains, “In legal states, cannabis users may receive more information about the risks of cannabis use from sources like physicians who issue medical cannabis cards or dispensary staff than users living in neither states.” Additionally, labeling requirements in states where cannabis is legal caution consumers against driving after consumption, which may also contribute to the reduced DUIC in those states. 

In states where cannabis is not legal, whether medically or recreationally, there are no regulations in place for product packaging nor are there educational campaigns about safe consumption practices. The researchers explain that “although all states should educate its citizens about the potential dangers of using cannabis and driving,” their analysis “suggests that states without legal cannabis are particularly in need of DUIC prevention efforts.” These efforts are most needed in states without legalization since those residents are most at risk of DUIC. 

Regulation Means Safer Cannabis Consumption

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano explains that research like this “ought to reassure those who fear that legalization might inadvertently be associated with relaxed attitudes toward driving under the influence,” and that “ these conclusions show that this has not been the case and that, in fact, consumers residing in legal marijuana states are less likely to engage in this behavior than those residing in states were cannabis possession remains criminalized.” 

It should be noted that there is one major limitation of the study, and that is the fact that the data analyzed was all self-reported. This means that there is no way to be certain that the participants were accurately and unbiasedly reporting whether they DUIC. Still, the results of the study are statistically significant, and further research will provide more data on the subject. 

Whether you’re in a state with a legal cannabis program or not, remember to always wait at least four hours before driving after smoking or vaping and even longer after consuming edibles.

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