There are never-ending perils for drivers to circumnavigate on the road. Now, another worry has been added to the list — marijuana. With more states legalizing cannabis for recreational use, concerns over road safety have grown of late.
However, a new study published in BMC Research Notes attempts to ease these fears through data, not rhetoric.
“People in states that legalized sales of recreational marijuana were more likely to try to stop a friend from driving while drunk or high,” the researchers write.
“Only 9.7% of respondents reported that driving after marijuana use was acceptable, and 82.6% of respondents supported per-se marijuana laws.”reads the study from BMC Research Notes
Researchers suggest the legalization of cannabis is to be thanked for this extra-protective behavior. Legalization of recreational marijuana use gives individuals the chance to personally experiment with the drug, which grows an understanding of their personal physical and mental response to cannabis. This awareness of neurological change helps one see the possible hazards of driving “high.” That, according to the study, has created “a low acceptance of driving after cannabis use.”
“There was practically no difference in self-reported driving after marijuana use between drivers in states that legalized recreational marijuana and drivers in states that had not,” the researchers determined. “A higher percentage of respondents in states that legalized recreational marijuana supported per-se laws, compared to those in states where recreational use was illegal.”
In states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, the high support for road laws and low acceptance of driving “high” sends a hopeful sign to law enforcement. The correlation indicates that communities will self-promote safe-driving standards, impacting the number of incidents on the road more than a media- or enforcement-driven safety campaign would.
The researchers did note cannabis to be a dangerous addition to driving — especially shortly after consumption — but also pointed out the effects of cannabis do not correspond to increased crash risk.
Previous studies found “no evidence of association between tetrahydrocannabinol — commonly known as THC, the part of cannabis responsible for creating the feeling of a euphoric high — presence in drivers and the odds of fatal crash involvement.” The associations between THC presence in drivers and higher fatal crash incidents that do exist were found to be small in magnitude.
“THC can remain in one’s system long after cognitive effects are experienced, and tolerance varies greatly between users,” the researchers write. “Therefore, studies of crash data struggle to capture what, if any, impairment was experienced by the drivers at the time of the crash, especially when the time between consumption and crash is unknown.”
With different hazards emerging on the roads daily, research on marijuana is distancing the drug from danger and suggesting it enhances community safety. Across the U.S., policies on pot vary. Stricter states warrant less disclosure over marijuana use in fear of possible repercussions.
On the other hand, states that permit marijuana would assume to see a higher prevalence of self-reporting marijuana-related road incidents because they are more willing to admit their usage.
“As marijuana policies continue to become more permissive in the U.S., there is a need for continued exploration of differences in behaviors and attitudes towards driving after marijuana use.”the authors write
Yet, comparing the numbers makes it clear. Despite the supposedly easier access and more prevalent consumption of weed, people who live in states that allow for marijuana to be recreationally consumed are just not risking the roads while “high.”
“We found no predominant pattern suggesting that behaviors and attitudes were more tolerant in states with liberal marijuana policies,” the researchers state. “Marijuana users, in states that legalized recreational usage, self-reported driving after marijuana use less than their counterparts.”