Marijuana Liberalization Reduces Drunk Driving Fatalities

Anderson, Hansen and Rees look at Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption:

To date, 17 states have passed medical marijuana laws, yet very little is known about their effects. The current study examines the relationship between the legalization of medical marijuana and traffic fatalities, the leading cause of death among Americans ages 5 through 34. The first full year after coming into effect, legalization is associated with an 8 to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities. The impact of legalization on traffic fatalities involving alcohol is larger and estimated with more precision than its impact on traffic fatalities that do not involve alcohol. Legalization is also associated with sharp decreases in the price of marijuana and alcohol consumption, suggesting that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes. Because alternative mechanisms cannot be ruled out, the negative relationship between legalization and alcohol-related traffic fatalities does not necessarily imply that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol.

The decline in alcohol consumption is consistent with the fact that alcohol producers have opposed marijuana legalization. Hat tip: Scott Cunningham.


Actually, it's alcohol distributors that are opposing legalization, not producers. Then again, if you're a producer that can create a branded product, you can be more immune to the substitution effect. A distributor, on the other hand, will bear the brunt of substitution no matter what (as will producers without sufficient branding) so this makes perfect sense.

Here in Colorado, governor Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64.

He owns a brewery.

I generally like Hickenlooper. He's generally very pragmatic and socially liberal, but unfortunately this is the only reason that explains why he opposed it.

OTOH at least he made a good joke about cheeto's after it passed.

It does seem odd that it is the alcohol distributors are the ones spending so much more than the producers against legalization propositions. (I know they spent the most in Cali in 2010. Also the current medical marijuana sellers were also spending against legalization which lead to "Big Marijuana" special interest.) My guess this is because:
1) Distributors are more local while being very competitive low margin business. Anything that hurts their sales really effects the business.
2) Distributors don't have the name brand to be damaged. Most people don't know is the middle man. The producers who spend against legalization, will be a news story that all they care about is selling their booze and might have a weird damage to their name.

As someone who was known to partake while driving the problem is marijuana distorts your time sense and makes you feel like you are moving faster than you are. Compared to drunk driving I wouldn't say that your ability to avoid an accident is any better, but you are usually going a hell of a lot slower. The most common refrain from passengers was "speed up or you will look suspicious" as I was driving like a grandma.

Seconded. And the study repeats another well known fact: excessive drinking and getting stoned do not go together. When stoned you have no tolerance for getting hammered (a few beers'll do), and you learn that smoking after drinking bring spins & nausea. That's ceteris paribus of course, add some coke or horse and all the dynamics change.

I understand driving home from the bar so your best buddies don't Tea Bag you passed out.

But you HAVE drugs, why are you going anywhere!?!

Because younow have the munchies and there is some food you MUST have.

Hence Frito-Lay poured in millions, offsetting the distributors. I kid.

So is the policy implication to nudge all bars to also offer marijuana? :)

Broadly speaking it makes sense that alcohol and marijuana
are substitute goods. On the other hand, they can be complementary as well. There's a certain synergistic effect between a few beers and a few tokes. However, as Givco noted, large doses of the two together can be quite unpleasant.

I think they are compliments in terms of frequency of use but substitutes in terms of total quantity consumed (if that makes any sense.....)

That makes sense. Compliments in frequency of use, substitutes in quantity per use--net effect of which is less total consumption of each.

Tempest in a test tube.

They've identified a seeming empirical link with no sound theory underpinning it.

Does smoking pot remove the urge to drive? What other urges does it suppress?

Marijuana makes you careful, paranoid, and lethargic, meaning, yeah, people probably drive less, and when they do, are much more careful (as Eorr mentioned).

Also, don't get all huffy about it. Scientists usually don't put *every* aspect of their science in *every* paper. Usually they rely on people to, you know, read around.

"No sound theory?" The theory is that some people smoke pot instead of drinking alcohol, and that driving while stoned might be safer than driving while drunk. They admit that the theory is not fully tested, but logically it seems sound enough.

I think drivers who are stoned drive verrry slooowly. So maybe their accidents don't count.

I wonder about the tobacco companies. Do they care? If they do, do they oppose or favor marijuana liberalization? Are marijuana and cigarettes complimentary or unrelated? Or is there substitution?

An analogous question might be whether Beer producers treat Champagne as competition.

More like beer and coffee.

well, they certainly view hard alcohol producers as competition, and were able to keep spirits advertising off the airwaves for some time (although this recently fell).
Also: There is Champale...

The study relies heavily on the magazine High Times. That's not exactly a peer-reviewed journal. Any chance this study is just a hoax?


too funny!

Perhaps we're getting Tokal Hoaxed.

It's forthcoming at Journal of law and economics. The High Times is where they get the price data. There is literally no better source. The STRIDE data which is what people usually use for illicit drug data does not have reliable information on marijuana prices as most marijuana observations in STRIDE are seizures (ie, no price). Mark Anderson, one of the authors, went painstakingly through eBay auctions purchasing High Times so that he could get a reliable measure of marijuana prices. He's a very creative, ambitious young economist doing great work.

A simpler answer may be that alcohol is a drug you frequently go out to consume and we don't have a cultural equivalent of a "marijuana bar".

...yet :)


Exactly. A better study would be to compare traffic fatalities before and after the 1st coffeeshops opened n holland. Although bicycles are the preferred mode.

Um, perhaps you should have read the paper.

Once a state legalizes "medical" marijuana use it becomes more difficult to legalize "recreational" use. The reason being, not only are you contending with those who are opposed to any legalization, but also the medical marijuana growers and retailers (as happened in CA) - they don't want to lose their monopoly.


I see your point but on the other hand, it may be a step towards the normalization of the mj culture. Once people see a large group of people are using this substance and hell hasn't broken out, more people are accepting.

I've noticed a large change in CA residents over the last 10 years in how outspoken one can be in public about mj use, recreational or not.

And yet it is Colorado and Washington -- two MMJ pioneer states -- that just legalized. I would say the effect of special interest opposition is easily overcome by the "people can look around and observe that society hasn't collapsed so hey let's go for it" effect.

What are you all talking about? if I have some weed, I'll drink less. It's as simple as that. I'm also much less likely to do something ridiculous, like drive around wasted.

You're missing the point. A sector of the population that will not just go ask practiciners, mull it over, have a couple exchanges and then conclude something. They want a "study" that cities other studies, excludes colloquial language with a boundary of acronyms and jargon, and flaunts fancy "Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)" models. We all communicate differently, so take it easy.

weed and alcohol substitute. weed and cigarettes are complementary.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet... some years ago a friend of mine working for the Queensland Railways did a study that found: The more dope their employees smoked, the less they drank and the less damaged their equipment was at the end of the year.

One could speculate that Queensland Rail might then have proceeded to enforce alcohol rules strictly while only pretending to prevent marijuana usage. However one could never prove such a thing because it would have been illegal for them to do so.

What is often missed with alcohol is that there are usually several confounding factors in accidents.

1). Alcohol impairs judgement and reduces inhibition, making people more likely to engage in risky behavior while impaired (e.g. high speeds, driving with passangers...).

2). Alcohol consumption is usually done at night, when opportunity for risky behavior is great.

3). Alcohol is highly monitored and is reported as a factor if it is detect whether a factor or not.

This would be a great finding if found to be significant over the long term.

I agree with J Laurence but a personal opinion of mine would be that legalization can and will extend these kind of statistics. Marijuana is a relaxer compared to alcohol which obviously should never be combined with a car. Since it is a relaxer, people create understanding of the road without the impatience and road rage. When is learning accelerated? When you have a clear mind with no stress. That seems a lot safer for the road in my opinion.

Amazingly, companies like the breweries and tobacco are scared of these great benefits marijuana posses - done some research on its potential and its something of phone book of different diseases and disorders. If given the right name and education, it can poss to control the drug industry.

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