Will Recreational Marijuana Laws Cause More AccidentsLast updated on: July 6, 2021
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As many states across the United States continue to pass laws allowing for the recreational use of marijuana and cannabis products, the risk of more drivers on the road driving while under the influence of marijuana continues to grow. When any driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs—legal or illegal—gets behind the wheel, he or she poses a danger to others on the road as a result of the effects of the drugs or alcohol.
If you have been involved in an accident caused by someone who was under the influence of marijuana, you may need an injury lawyer to help you pursue the maximum compensation you may be entitled to. Call Zinda Law Group immediately at (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers. If we are not able to win your case, you will not owe us anything.
dangers of driving high on marijuana
The legalization of recreational marijuana in some states appears to have coincided with an increase in more drivers involved in accidents while under the influence of marijuana. Some studies have shown that the use of marijuana can adversely affect driving abilities. Although additional factors such as weather conditions, infrastructure, and population may contribute to the number of vehicle accidents in a particular state, the number of car crashes in states where recreational marijuana is legalized appears to increase above rates that were estimated based on those other factors.
Marijuana contains psychoactive substances, particularly THC, which can impair an individual’s cognitive function, decision-making abilities, coordination, and reaction-time. Slower reaction times place drivers and other individuals on the road at risk of colliding. Impaired cognitive and decision-making functions increase the likelihood of a driver acting recklessly behind the wheel and placing themselves and other drivers or passengers on the road in danger.
marijuana car accident statistics
According to a 2019 report published by the CDC, the number of drivers who reported driving while under the influence of marijuana had increased by almost half over a four-year span. The CDC reported that about 12 million drivers over the age of 16 reported operating a motor vehicle after consuming marijuana; the CDC called this increase in drivers operating vehicles after consuming marijuana, especially by younger adults, a “growing concern.” Indeed, another study found that “one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” creating a trend that, if it continues, would result in non-alcohol drugs overtaking “alcohol to become the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving.”
According to this study published in Injury Epidemiology, the driver responsible for causing the car crash was almost twice as likely to test positive for marijuana than was the other driver. The authors concluded that their results indicated that there was significant evidence that marijuana use was associated with increased odds of causing a fatal, two-vehicle crash. Furthermore, the increased risk was due largely to the direct effect of marijuana rather than due in part to alcohol also being present in the driver’s system.
recreational MARIJUANA laws
The expansion of marijuana legalization in various forms continues across the United States, with more states continuing to approve the recreational use of marijuana and cannabis products. The trend has not yet taken hold in Texas, where recreational marijuana continues to be illegal.
Recreational Marijuana Laws in Texas
Pursuant to Section 481.121 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, the possession of a “usable quantity” marijuana is illegal and depending on the amount of marijuana possessed by an individual, someone guilty of possession of marijuana in Texas could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for two ounces of marijuana or less. They can be charged with up to a second degree felony for possessing between fifty pounds and two thousand pounds of marijuana.
While the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal in Texas, eligible Texas citizens are able to obtain medical marijuana through Texas’s Compassionate Use Program (CUP), which is administered by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Pursuant to Texas law authorizing the CUP, certain physicians are allowed to prescribe cannabis containing low amounts of THC to eligible patients for medical purposes only. To be eligible, patients in Texas must have been diagnosed with one of the following diseases:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Terminal cancer
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Seizure disorders
- An incurable neurodegenerative disease
Recreational Marijuana Laws in Colorado
Meanwhile, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Under Colorado law, Article XVIII, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution authorizes personal use of marijuana by stating that it shall not be illegal for anyone over the age of 21 to be in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Meanwhile, the Colorado Constitution, as amended by a statewide ballot initiative, also allows for the legal transfer of one ounce or less of marijuana without compensation so long as the recipient is at least 21 years old.
Importantly, to purchase marijuana recreationally in Colorado, the purchaser must be at least 21 years old and also possess a valid, state-issued ID. Colorado does require any sales of cannabis to take place in a properly licensed Colorado dispensary; however, it remains illegal in Colorado to use marijuana in any way in public, whether smoking, vaping, or eating. Finally, Colorado allows people to possess no more than six marijuana plants, so long as no more than three of these plants are mature.
will marijuana cause more accidents?
As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana, there also appears to a corresponding possibility for the increase in car crashes caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana. As a result, researchers continue to examine the data to determine a more conclusive answer to the question, “How will new recreational marijuana laws change accidents occurring in those states?”
According to a 2020 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, researchers reported a connection between serious traffic accidents and marijuana use. Based on a study in the state of Washington of fatal accidents before and after the legalization of marijuana, researchers found a disturbing increase in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes across the state who tested positive for the recent use of marijuana before the accident.
Before Washington legalized recreational marijuana, about 8.8 percent of drivers involved in fatal car accidents tested positive for THC, while that percentage more than doubled to about 18 percent between 2013 and 2017 following legalization by Washington of recreational marijuana. Further, the AAA report found that the average number of drivers who tested positive for THC who were involved in fatal accidents increased from about 56 drivers per year before legalization to 130 drivers per year during the five-year period following legalization.
Further, according to a 2017 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), researchers found that collision claim rates in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington increased an average of about three percent higher following the legalization of recreational marijuana in those states than would have been expected without legalization. However, while HLDI noted that marijuana use is becoming more frequent among drivers involved in car crashes, the study also acknowledged that there continued to be no definitive connection found between marijuana use and increases in car accidents despite evidence that marijuana use can negatively impair driving performance.
signs a driver may be high
Some states, such as Colorado and Washington, passed laws attempting to measure THC amounts in the body similar to blood alcohol tests in order to determine whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident. However, this method has been met with criticism based on evidence that the active agent in marijuana, THC, may show up in various tests for days or even weeks after ingestion, long after any impairment has ended. Some signs that the driver may be under the influence of marijuana include:
- Poor hand-eye concentration
- Red eyes
- Smelling like marijuana
- Decreased short-term memory
- Lack of concentration
- Decreased or delayed reaction time
- Decreased perception of distance and time
do i need a personal injury attorney?
As with any personal injury case or car accident claim, it is often critical to hire an experienced lawyer as soon as possible to help you pursue the compensation you may be entitled to. A skilled personal injury attorney near you can help you better understand the laws in your state surrounding recreational use of marijuana as well as how you may be able to determine whether the driver who caused your accident was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident. Unlike alcohol, marijuana consumption may be much harder to prove, often requiring a thorough investigation by your attorney.
Further, you will likely need an injury lawyer so that he or she can handle your claim while you focus on recovering from your injuries, and to help you determine how much compensation you may be entitled to following your attorney’s investigation of the accident. As your case progresses, your attorney will negotiate with the other party’s insurance company on your behalf, helping to level the playing field against their team of lawyers who are concerned only with maximizing profits for the insurance company rather than making sure that you receive any compensation you may be entitled to.
contact a denver personal injury lawyer near you
Researchers continue to study potential connections between the legalization of recreational marijuana, increases in car crashes, and the number of involved drivers who test positive for THC. Meanwhile, victims injured in those car crashes often face serious or catastrophic injuries, expensive medical bills, and other damages.
Whether you live in Colorado or Texas, if you have been involved in a car crash involving a driver who was under the influence of marijuana, call Zinda Law Group today to speak with one of our car accident injury lawyers about your accident and your legal options. While each accident is unique, you—like many others—may be entitled to compensation for any injuries or damages suffered in the accident.
Meetings with attorneys are available by appointment only.