The number of marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado rose 48 percent in the three years after the state legalized recreational pot smoking, according to a new report released by an alcohol industry group and a traffic safety advocacy group.
The study looked at various states that had decriminalized marijuana usage and measured the shares of fatal motor vehicle crashes where police labs found traces of marijuana in the drivers’ blood samples.
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, an organization supported by eight national and international alcohol brands, released the report with the Governors Highway Safety Association. The alcohol group’s stated mission is to fight drunk driving and underage drinking and to encourage people to make responsible choices about drinking.
In the case of Colorado, researchers compared the average rates of cannabis involvement during the three years before and the three years after the state legalized recreational usage (2010-2012 and 2013-2015).
In 2009, 10 percent of the drivers in fatal crashes in Colorado tested positive for marijuana. By 2015, the number had doubled to 21 percent. During the same period, all traffic deaths in Colorado increased 11 percent, the report said.
The report didn’t cover 2016, when 607 people died in Colorado auto accidents, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Police suspected that 196 of the deaths were related to drivers’ use of drugs and alcohol, The Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reported.
The foundation report cited surveys of Colorado and Washington state drivers who said they smoked marijuana. Of those, 43.6 percent said they had driven under the influence of marijuana in the past year, and 23.9 percent said they had driven within an hour of smoking pot.
Foundation president Ralph S. Blackman told Ashley Halsey III, a reporter for The Washington Post:
“As drunken driving has declined, drugged driving has increased dramatically, and many of today’s impaired drivers are combining two or more substances.”
Nationally, the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana or other drugs after dying in an accident rose from nearly 28 percent in 2005 to 43 percent in 2015, Halsey wrote, when auto accidents killed 35,095 people across the United States.
Washington, D.C., and 29 states allow medical use of marijuana. Seventeen states allow use for limited medical reasons. Twenty-one states have decriminalized marijuana, and eight states and the U.S. capital allow its recreational use.
Better Detection Leads to More Arrests
In Aurora, Colorado, police say alcohol is still the biggest problem for its drivers but marijuana and other drugs are playing an increasing role in traffic arrests and fatalities, Brandon Johansson of The Aurora Sentinel newspaper reported.
Aurora Police Department traffic section officer Kevin Deichsel told the newspaper:
“It’s a combination of our increased training in the department, noticing impaired drivers specifically for drugs and the population increase around the metro area. It hasn’t just been one specific drug.”