Changes in cannabis legalization status haven’t caused an uptick in pedestrians being killed by cars, a study has concluded. Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health delved into crash data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to calculate monthly rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes and fatal pedestrian-involved crashes per 100,000 people from 1991 to 2018. States looked at were Colorado, Oregon and Washington—where there are lenient cannabis laws— and five control states where legislation is tighter.
The research, which was published in Traffic Injury Prevention. was unable to identify any increase in pedestrian-involved fatal motor vehicle crashes that could be attributable to changes in marijuana legalization. In fact in two of the three states they examined, Washington and Oregon, there were immediate decreases in all fatal crashes following medical cannabis legalization, while Colorado showed an increased trend for all fatal crashes after recreational legalization, but only a modest one (0.15 and 0.18 monthly fatal crashes per 100,000 people).
Overall the authors conclude that “these findings do not suggest an elevated risk of motor vehicle crashes associated with cannabis legalization, nor do they suggest an increased risk of pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes.”
In a press release about the study the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) pointed out these findings are in keeping with previous research. For example a 2019 study showed a downturn in traffic fatalities following California’s legalization of medical cannabis and a joint 2016 research project between Columbia University and UC Davis that identified a decrease in vehicle crash deaths in areas where medical marijuana is legal.
Other studies have produced more mixed results however.
It’s important to note that operating a motor vehicle under the influence of cannabis is a criminal offense in every state, irrespective of the legal status of cannabis under the law.