Recreational marijuana is now legal in California, and stores licensed to sell pot to adults without a medical marijuana card are expected to start popping up next year. While some people are cheering the promise of easier access to legal weed, others are worried about possible negative effects, especially on our roads. Does legalized marijuana lead to more car crashes?
According to one recent study, the answer is yes. Legalized marijuana results in more crashes.
The study came from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), and it found a 3 percent increase in collision claim frequency. To arrive at this conclusion, researchers looked at Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where recreational marijuana has been legalized. The increase in accidents varied by state and was most significant in Colorado.
Not all studies have drawn the same conclusions.
Reuters reports that another study, this one published by the American Journal of Public Health, found no significant increase in fatal crash rates in Colorado and Washington compared to eight states that have not legalized marijuana.
Whether or not legalization of marijuana leads to more crashes in general, driving while high may lead an individual to crash. The known effects of marijuana – including decreased reaction time and altered perception – are dangerous for anyone behind the wheel.
California’s driving laws are clear.
Even though recreational marijuana is legal in California, driving under the influence is still very illegal. According to California Vehicle Code 23152 (f), “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.” That includes marijuana, regardless of the drug’s legal classification in the state.
In the past, police who suspected that a driver was under the influence of marijuana would usually administer a blood test. However, new tests are being developed, and they promise to make it easier for police to screen for marijuana quickly and accurately on the side of the road.
Drivers who are convicted of a DUI face fines, license suspension and possible jailtime – and that’s assuming they don’t crash.
Driving with an open container of marijuana in the car is also illegal. According to California Vehicle Code 23222 (b), driving with a container of marijuana “which has been opened or has a seal broken, or loose cannabis flower not in a container” is prohibited. An exception is made for containers or loose cannabis flower stored in the trunk of the car.
Legalized marijuana is a new development, so more studies are needed to understand the precise effects on crash rates. In the meantime, remember that driving while under the influence is illegal and may increase your chance of an accident. Always drive sober.