Marijuana Legalization Not Causing More Highway Fatalities, Report Reveals

Crashes involving alleged stoned driving continue to get a great deal of attention following this year's start of legal recreational marijuana sales. Note the story of Emily Strock, who reportedly admitted to consuming one bowl of pot and drinking one beer prior to a grisly Colfax and Speer crash but has only been charged with driving under the influence of drugs. The accusation came down before blood test results were final.

But have legal pot sales led to more Colorado highway deaths thus far in 2014? One report says "no" -- and that cheers a local marijuana business representative.

See also: Emily Strock allegedly drank one beer, smoked bowl of pot before gruesome Colfax-Speer crash

The Washington Post's Radley Balko has kept a close eye on issues related to marijuana and impaired driving in Colorado, making his biggest splash with a report about Keith Kilbey, who became something of a stoned driving poster boy after smacking into two police vehicles in January. But as Balko pointed out, Kilbey was extremely drunk in addition to being over the legal level for THC.

Balko's latest piece on Colorado and pot maintains that highway fatalities here have been near historic lows in the seven months following the January 1 recreational pot sales launch.

To illustrate this point, Balko created a pair of graphics. The first compares the highest, lowest and average highway fatality figures in the state since 2002 with January-through-July numbers for 2013 and 2014. As you can see, the 2014 line is lower than the highest and average figures for the past thirteen years, and only slightly above the lowest marks recorded over that span. Moreover, the 2014 fatalities were equal to or lower than those from the previous year during the majority of months.

A second graphic showing total fatalities confirms that fewer people have died on Colorado highways from January through July in 2014 than did so over that span in 2013 -- and again, the figures are below the high and average sums and close to historic lows since 2002. There's no definitive proof that pot legalization has led to the lower fatality figures, Balko admits. But he believes the digits are "far more supportive of that than of the claims that stoned drivers are menacing Colorado's roadways."

Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, feels likewise. In a statement provided to Westword, he contends that "Colorado's low traffic fatality numbers are yet another sign that Colorado's marijuana laws are working.

"While positive news, we hope that the marijuana community will remain vigilant in promoting responsible cannabis use," he adds. "The eyes of the world are upon us, and we must continue exceeding their expectations."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts