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When Washington State and Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, many worried that the decision would lead to mayhem on the Evergreen and Centennial states’ roadways.
The good thing about experimentation, however, is that you get results. As the adviser to Washington’s state-appointed board overseeing the implementation put it, the repeals offer a chance for the nation to learn about the effects of legalization:
If Washington does this right, we’ll learn something. If they do it in some sensible way and it crashes and burns—the system doesn’t work at all, we get a massive increase in use by minors, carnage on our highways—then we’ve also learned something about the cannabis-legalization experiment that the next person might learn from.
While some anecdotal reports appeared to confirm the Jerimaids, more recent data suggests that the concerns about car accidents were overblown. As of late last year, Washington State had seen an increase in the proportion of DUIs that were marijuana-related, though the number of total of DUI arrests — i.e., for alcohol, marijuana, and all other intoxicants — remained basically unchanged. The news from Colorado is similarly encouraging if, again, incomplete. Washington Post blogger Radley Balko compared the number of road fatalities since the Colorado law took effect to the same periods from previous years. His findings?
[T]he totals so far in 2014 are closer to the safest composite year since 2002 than to the average year since 2002. I should also add here that these are total fatalities. If we were to calculate these figures as a rate — say, miles driven per fatality — the drop would be starker, both for this year and since Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2001. While the number of miles Americans drive annually has leveled off nationally since the mid-2000s, the number of total miles traveled continues to go up in Colorado. If we were to measure by rate, then, the state would be at lows unseen in decades.
Balko goes on to concede that this is merely one measure, and an indirect one at that: there could be a lot of things hiding in that data, such as increased safety features for cars and the possibility that fatalities would have been even lower had marijuana remained illegal. Regardless, it seems that looser drug laws aren’t as incompatible with steadily-increasing public safety as some critics imagined. That’s a good thing.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Daniel Hoherd.