States that legalize weed see initial spike in traffic accidents

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While accident numbers eventually do go down, researchers say neighboring towns and cities may be more affected

Since a number of states across the country have begun legalizing the sale of marijuana, researchers have been evaluating the ways the decision has affected consumers’ day-to-day lives.

A recent study conducted by a team from Monash University found that states that legalize marijuana see an uptick in traffic fatalities in the months that immediately follow the legalization. While these accidents do tend to decrease over time, neighboring towns are affected more.

“The effect of cannabis legislation on traffic fatalities is a growing public health concern,” said Dr. Tyler Lane. “The results suggest that legalizing the sale of cannabis for recreational use can lead to a temporary increase in traffic fatalities in legalizing states. This spills over into neighboring jurisdictions through cross-border sales, trafficking, or cannabis tourists driving back to their state of residence while impaired.”

What’s happening on the roads

The researchers evaluated traffic information from three states that legalized the recreational sale of marijuana -- Oregon, Colorado, and Washington -- and then looked at nine neighboring cities. Information was gathered from 2009 through 2016.

The researchers compared traffic fatalities in states that legalized weed with those who have not, and they found that in the six months following legalization, there were around 170 additional traffic-related deaths among the three states.

The study showed that traffic fatalities went up by one for every one million residents in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington, but after the first year of legalization, the numbers went back to normal. However, the increase in accidents remained in cities that bordered the states that legalized weed.

The researchers call this trend “cannabis tourism,” which involves residents traveling across state lines to legally purchase marijuana, and then driving back to their hometowns -- usually after smoking their purchases. Moving forward, the researchers suggest that lawmakers need to consider the wide-reaching effects of legalizing marijuana, and how they may go further than originally anticipated.

“Our findings suggest that policymakers should consult with neighboring jurisdictions when liberalizing cannabis policy to mitigate any deleterious effects,” Dr. Lane said.

Reaching more people

Legalizing marijuana is a popular topic for many legislators nationwide, and following the 2018 midterm elections, Utah, Missouri, and Michigan voters are pushing for a more widespread use of the drug in their states.

Not long after that vote of confidence, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that it was looking to legally sell food and drinks with CBD oil.

The FDA is “aware of the growing public interest in cannabis and cannabis-driven products” and plans to “continue to take steps to make the pathways for the lawful marketing of these products more efficient.”

Coca-Cola could be the first brand to jump on the bandwagon, as the soda company has shown interest in developing drinks that contain CBD.

CBD has been found to help those suffering with epilepsy, muscle cramps, pain, anxiety, and depression, and it can also be effective for those trying to lose weight or lay off alcohol. Because of this, Coke says these products would be marketed as “wellness beverages.”

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