Do Medical-Marijuana Laws Save Lives on The Road?
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Do Medical-Marijuana Laws Save Lives on The Road?
Posted by CN Staff on August 09, 2013 at 16:28:05 PT
By Chris Berdik
Source: Boston Globe
USA -- As legal marijuana spreads across America, mostly for medical use, anxiety about its side effects is spreading with it: What other changes will it bring? Campaigns against loosening the law tend to focus on its unknown and possibly dangerous repercussions—a surge in pot smoking, perhaps opening the door to increased use of harder drugs and to associated spikes in crime and other societal ills.Amid the heated debate, a small amount of hard data is starting to emerge. And among the most intriguing findings is a recent study suggesting that Massachusetts could enjoy an unexpected boon from last November’s vote to legalize medical marijuana: fewer deaths on our roads and highways.
A team of economists who specialize in health and risk behaviors looked at the link between marijuana laws and traffic deaths, and found that roadway fatalities dropped significantly in states after they legalized medical marijuana. On average, deaths dropped 8 to 11 percent in the first full year after the law went into effect, and fell 10 to 13 percent by year four. Five years out, the results grew more varied, and faded in some cases.The study doesn’t include Massachusetts, whose medical-marijuana law just went into effect in May, well after the researchers had finished collecting and analyzing their data. But applied to Massachusetts’ most recent traffic fatality statistics, the study’s findings would roughly translate to about 35 lives saved per year.The notion that loosening the restrictions on a drug—one that’s hardly known for improving reaction times—might actually improve traffic safety is surprising on the face of it, and the researchers are careful to say that there’s nothing safe about driving under the influence of marijuana. But as they try to unpack what might be making the difference, it is becoming clear that the knowledge emerging from America’s new experiments with marijuana law could significantly change the public conversation—giving us new data about the effects of drugs on society, and landing a familiar debate on unfamiliar new ground.For more than four decades, starting in 1970, a complete prohibition on pot was the law of the land, both federally and in every state. But in 1996, California cracked the door to legalization by allowing medical marijuana, and 19 states have followed. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use, both last year. Meanwhile, it remains illegal under federal law to buy, sell, use, or possess pot anywhere, in any amount.The state-level legalization trend has been so rapid that there are thus far relatively few definitive studies on its effects. For instance, while medical marijuana laws seem to increase pot smoking generally, there are conflicting findings over whether it increases use among teenagers. A scattering of contradictory, often localized, studies have also been done on changes after legalization in crime, emergency room visits, and the use of other drugs. Obviously, each of these categories is complicated, with numerous factors at work.Daniel Rees, a University of Colorado economist, and his colleagues decided to look at one major but narrow public-health statistic: state-by-state data on traffic fatalities compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They gathered the numbers and controlled for other factors, such as the overall nationwide decline in traffic deaths, and states individually lowering their legal blood-alcohol limits. It didn’t take long to see a pattern: Medical marijuana laws coincided with less roadway carnage.The bulk of the team’s work, published this spring in the Journal of Law and Economics, was spent trying to figure out why. After parsing the statistics, the researchers themselves chalk the drop in deaths up to “substitution”—the idea that more pot-smoking means less booze-swilling. (It is assumed by most drug researchers that some medical marijuana leaks into the general population, so it’s not just patients who have more access to the drug.) The counter-argument, often used as a case against legalization, is that cannabis and alcohol are “complementary,” meaning that increased use of one spurs more consumption of the other. Once again, studies of this issue have conflicting results, because it’s tough to get precise consumer data about an illegal product. But Rees and his team say a deeper analysis of their data points to lower alcohol use as the likely mechanism for the drop in traffic fatalities.For one thing, medical marijuana laws had a smaller impact on the number of deaths in crashes where alcohol was not a factor—a 7 percent drop on average, compared to a 13 percent drop in deaths where alcohol was implicated. In addition, the drop in deaths was more robust among young adults (between 20 and 40), especially young men, and it was stronger on nights and weekends. All of that lines up with what’s known about drinking and driving.When it comes to traffic safety, says Rees, “the uncomfortable conclusion is that you’d rather have young adults smoking marijuana instead of drinking alcohol. Even I’m uncomfortable with it. But that’s where the logic takes us.”The researchers offer two possible explanations for why more marijuana use could lead to less drunken driving. One is that pot smoking takes place in different circumstances than drinking. Drinking is legal, and drinks are served in many places that can only be reached by car. People drink at bars, restaurants, ball games, picnics, concerts, and just about any adult social gathering; then they drive home. Because recreational marijuana is still illegal in all but two states, it’s used in a much less open range of environments. In other words, people go out and drink, but stoners tend to stay home. (This is one factor that may start to change if legalization takes hold: In early 2013, the first “pot bars” opened in Colorado and Washington.)The other possible explanation is straightforward, if definitely not something you’re likely to hear from your local chapter of DARE: It could be that pot availability leads to drunk drivers being replaced with stoned drivers, and that stoned drivers are, on average, safer. In fact, while studies indicate that pot is just as bad as alcohol for distance perception, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination, it appears to be less of a danger in simulated and real-world driving tests. Driving high is by no means safe: A meta-analysis by the British Medical Journal early in 2012 found that drivers who were high on marijuana had nearly double the risk of a serious crash compared to sober counterparts. But driving drunk is worse, causing a tenfold increase in accident risk for drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration at the legal limit of 0.08, or a forty-eightfold increase at the old legal limit of 0.1. The researchers also point out that drivers under the influence of marijuana may “engage in compensatory behaviors” such as driving slowly, avoiding sudden, risky maneuvers, and staying well behind the car in front of them. Perhaps they are just more cautious than a drunk person would be, even though they are still impaired.Marijuana legalization advocates may be eager to trumpet these results, but the research case is far from closed. Rosalie Pacula, an economist at the RAND Corporation specializing in drug policy research, says medical marijuana laws are far too varied from state to state to draw any broad conclusions about the effects of fuller legalization. (In Massachusetts, the law’s patient-registration requirement places it on the stricter side, though its allowance for up to 35 dispensaries suggests fairly wide distribution.)In work she’s presented at academic conferences but has yet to publish, Pacula reanalyzed the same crash incident data and found that the drop in traffic deaths was strongest in states that restrict spillover into recreational use by requiring patients to sign on to a state registry, as Massachusetts does. This muddies the case for “substitution,” since presumably those effects would be strongest when pot was most easily obtained. Along the same lines, Pacula’s analysis found that the decline in deaths was offset when marijuana dispensaries were allowed to operate and advertise their services openly under state law.“I think they have a really interesting finding,” Pacula says. “But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not, aha, we have it!”What does seem clear is that as more data become available and pot prohibitions continue to fall, America’s approach to marijuana policy will have to get a lot more complicated than “just say no.” The legality of alcohol means that we have both solid information and precise laws about drinking and driving; now, as better data starts to trickle in about marijuana, what we learn will no doubt influence a variety of health and safety measures.Rees and his collaborators continue to look at the effects of medical marijuana laws. In a forthcoming paper for the American Journal of Public Health, they have found correlations between medical marijuana laws and declines in suicides, and they’re also looking into a range of other effects.Even if these results support the substitution theory argued in their traffic fatality study, with marijuana substituting for alcohol and perhaps mitigating some of its harmful effects, they acknowledge that there may be other social problems that pot makes worse than booze ever did. “It’s a possibility,” says Mark Anderson, a Montana State University economist and Rees’s primary collaborator on the marijuana studies. “I think that’s where we let the data tell us what’s going on.”The one certainty is that drug policy is rife with tradeoffs. As we learn more about the experience of states that relax marijuana restrictions, the fallout will certainly be more complicated than just “good” or “bad.” America’s public experiment with looser drug laws has only just begun to tell us what we’ll need to know. Chris Berdik is a journalist in Boston. His book, “Mind Over Mind,” was published in 2012 by Current, an imprint of Penguin. Source: Boston Globe (MA)Author: Chris BerdikPublished: August 9, 2013Copyright: 2013 Globe Newspaper CompanyContact: letter globe.comWebsite: URL:  Medical Marijuana  Archives 
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Comment #4 posted by mexweed on August 10, 2013 at 14:30:20 PT:
More research, less monoxide
Yes, after tokes drivers drive slower, are less interested in fighting for the right of way against another driver, etc.Missing in studies cited is any attention to the difference between a H-ot B-urning O-verdose M-onoxide 500-mg joint and a vaporizer, or a serving or two (VAPE TOKE) from a long-stemmed one-hitter. The joint delivers a drug cocktail of Carbon Monoxide, Heat Shock and 4221 Copmpustion Toxins which may be causing some accidents attreributed to the cannabis.
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Comment #3 posted by jetblackchemist on August 10, 2013 at 10:44:29 PT
Always sprinkles of old rhetoric... cut it out.
The first paragraph makes this piece hard to even want to read, I mean what other lies and fear mongering lay inside? "a surge in pot smoking, perhaps opening the door to increased use of harder drugs and to associated spikes in crime and other societal ills."The most important word in that whole paragraph "perhaps" showing it's a speculative opinion piece of someone that knows little of the subject, which means they have no business writing the article to begin with. Research your topic maybe?Ok, lets educate. The gateway theory has been proven to be a myth for one. Lead to increased use of harder drugs? Sorry, but that statement leads readers to believe all cannabis smokers are using hard drugs, and smoking cannabis is going to make them use even more... what a said pathetic generalization; again there are studies showing that the use of cannabis decreases and even stops the urge in those that use alcohol and hard drugs. Lets not call them hard drugs, but addictive drugs ok? There is no hard and soft, only drugs that are addictive have a high potential for abuse, cannabis again not addictive, 8 to 10% get psychologically addicted it is not physically dependent. This alone shows that crime will not increase, drug addicts that need money to meet their physical addiction often resort to crime. So crime increase is completely moot from use of cannabis.The status of cannabis being illegal and the war on drugs, has created gangs and cartels, no legal store front? There's the street corner, no taxes or accountability? Perfect income stream for the black market, to fuel all the ills of society. Cut does one stop the black market? Regulate and tax not ban. Once you ban something you create a demand, and if there's no legal market you just created a black market to meet supply for the demand. This isn't rocket science, and it's why we can't ban people into some idealistic moral code.The bans harm society I know it sounds counter intuitive, but how many gangs do you recall seeing roaming about before     the war on drugs? How many gangs do you see standing on the corner selling alcohol to kids?Wanna save the children? which is another common rhetoric... regulate and tax. It takes the gangs and danger off the streets making it safe for kids and adults again. It draws a clear line between adult and child. Ban it and treat adults like kids... they are gonna act like kids, hiding and sneaking. A grown responsible adult should not have to sneak  and hide to do what they want to do as an adult. Legitimatize adult use and you make them adults again, and if they cannot handle the responsibility that comes along with it, they pay the adult price... treatment or incarceration, just like what is done with alcohol.Sane and rational policy. It's about time we got some and took power back from the black market and cartels prohibition creates. The bans on moral grounds hasn't worked and will never work. It creates most all of the problems, we face in public health and public safety. Repression, disinformation, and propagation of bad rhetorical propaganda? In a just and honorable society are the tactics of a scoundrel's agenda. No one trusts a government that lies to them, no one wants to support or believe a governments agenda if there is no trust. If the government wants to talk about true transparency, then the old brain washing tactics need to stop... because the only thing transparent in government are the lies, and it has only been breeding discord because the majority of citizenry can see right through the rhetoric and lies.Want a citizenry filled with responsible adults? Treat them like responsible adults, if you force and manipulate them like a parent to do what you want, just like a teen they push back... and what better place to push back than on the ballots? Sorry to go off topic everyone, just really really tired of seeing old tired bad government propaganda pop up. Perhaps the writer got it edited after they submitted the piece, so my apologies to them if that was the case, the Washington Post used to inject propaganda spin after the fact, so there's no doubt that the Globe most likely spins it from pressure too.   
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Comment #2 posted by Paul Pot on August 09, 2013 at 23:45:58 PT:
Replacement Therapy.
What about the relationship with medical marijuana and the use of psych meds? 
Has the use of pharmaceuticals decreased and are they linked to traffik fatalities and suicides?
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Comment #1 posted by HempWorld on August 09, 2013 at 19:39:25 PT
Do Medical-Marijuana Laws Save Lives on The Road?
Yes, they do and much more!What? Can't be true! I can't believe my own research, lamented one economist...And then, it lowers suicides...Uh oh, not quite what our rulers called for...But... what can they do? As medicinal and legal marijuana finally take hold throughout the world...Time to drop the BS and GET REAL! What about, jus' the facts ma'am...
Ganja Plantation!
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