People Are Less Likely to Drive High In States Where Cannabis Is Legal

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Many opponents of cannabis legalization argue that a legal cannabis market will lead to more people driving under the influence of weed. But a recent study showed that, once again, the validity of that argument is up in smoke.

Cannabis consumers in states with legal medical or recreational marijuana are less likely to self-report driving under the influence (within three hours after using cannabis) than those who live in states where cannabis remains illegal, according to the study published in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Researchers from the Center for Health Analytics, Media, and Policy at RTI International in North Carolina said they decided to do the study because “conflicting data on cannabis legalization’s impact on public health has led to a quarrelsome debate regarding the relationship between cannabis use and traffic safety.”

They found that 40.3 percent of cannabis users in non-legal states reported driving three hours or less after using cannabis in the past 30 days, while only 27.3 percent reported doing so in states with legal medical marijuana (29.2 percent reported doing so in legal recreational marijuana states).

RELATED: Can Measuring Eye Characteristics Determine Cannabis DUI?

Possible explanations for the findings

Researchers based the study findings on a nationwide cohort of 1,249 current marijuana consumers. The large percentage difference between the two groups led researchers to attempt to explain the difference.

They cited the fact that those who live in legal cannabis states receive more information about the risks of combining cannabis use with driving from physicians or dispensary staff. Those living in illegal states do not have access to this information.

Another explanation may be the labeling requirements in legal and illegal states. In legal states, governments typically require warning labels and instructions on products. For example, those using edibles, which tend to take longer to have an effect, may see warning labels warning them against driving after cannabis consumption. Those who buy cannabis illegally receive no such information.

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Putting the findings into action

The researchers wrote that the findings of the study can help guide public policy. “Our findings suggest that DUIC (driving under the influence) prevention is most needed in states without legalized cannabis,” they wrote.

Because those states cannot regulate cannabis products, the study recommended consideration of mass media campaigns to provide education on the dangers of driving within three hours after using cannabis products.

They also said legal states should offer more information on the risks of cannabis and driving to heavy users of medical marijuana. That group proved an exception to the overall trend found in the study, with 38.5 percent of those who use medical cannabis every day reporting they drove within three hours after using cannabis.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said the study’s findings should reassure those concerned that legalized cannabis will result in more people driving under the influence.

“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 are those residing in states where cannabis possession remains criminalized,” Armentano said.

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