Reefer Madness on the Road | The Fix
facebook twitter RSS
HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

Reefer Madness on the Road

Why reports of marijuana-fueled traffic fatalities flooding the mainstream media aren’t entirely accurate.



By Paul Gaita


| Share

Since January 2014, there have been a flurry of reports in the media about seemingly dramatic increases in traffic fatalities caused by “marijuana-positive” drivers.

The news items seem to have been generated by a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that culled toxicology data on drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents in six states – California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia – between 1999 and 2010. While alcohol was the main culprit for approximately 40 percent of the cases, drugs were attributable to 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010. According to the study, marijuana was the main drug involved in 12 percent of those crashes, which was three times greater than the numbers found only a decade earlier in 1999.

Some news agencies took the information a step further by linking the surge in deaths to the rise of medical marijuana sales in 20 states, which seemed to indicate that the legalization movement was fueling a wave of homicidal motorists high on weed.

The facts behind the facts, however, reveal a much more accurate depiction of the relationship between traffic accidents and marijuana use. The American Journal study itself showed that the presence of cannabinol - the metabolite of THC - in the system of a driver involved in a fatal crash does not indicate that he or she was under the influence at the time of the accident. Traces of cannabinol can be found in the blood system for up to a week after use, which largely nullifies its status as a smoking gun. 

As the study’s authors themselves noted, “The prevalence of nonalcoholic drugs… should be interpreted as an indicator of drug use, not necessarily as a measure of drug impairment.”

As for the connection between the rise of traffic fatalities and the expansion of medical marijuana, only three of the six states included in the study had medical marijuana laws: California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. Furthermore, traffic deaths actually decreased in all three states between 1996 and 2010, with California experiencing a 31 percent drop, which reflected the nationwide reduction in such incidents during the same time period.

Have these statistics changed in the wake of more recent legalization efforts across the country? According to findings published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, traffic fatalities in Washington, which was the first state to officially legalize marijuana, experienced a minor spike in fatal crashes from 403 to 405 between 2012 and 2013, while Colorado, which followed suit soon after, dropped from 434 to 428 during that same period.

Rehabilitation Directories

Most Popular
Sober Living
Normies React to the 12 Steps

"I think admitting to having a problem in general is the right first step, but to admit powerlessness is unhealthy. .. I think admitting powerlessness is more harmful because it doesn't help. Admitting that you want and need help is more useful after admittance."

The Rehab Review
Cliffside Malibu

The “beach-house-relaxed” Cliffside Malibu claims to provide an oasis for recovering addicts and alcoholics. And that’s just what you'll get—if you’ve got the cash.

Morningside Recovery

For a “rehab near the beach” experience that isn’t quite as costly as similar SoCal competitors, head to this Newport Beach treatment facility.

AToN Center

Whether you’re interested in the 12 Steps, SMART Recovery, or holistic treatments, this luxurious, appealing and commendable 4.5 star (our system doesn't yet show the 1/2 star) San Diego rehab has a program for you. 


This exclusive Northern California rehab is all about client choice—as well as golf outings, Buddhist field trips and keeping up with the office.

Capo By The Sea

Capo By The Sea offers an executive rehab program complete with medical detox and a focus on dual-diagnosis issues, as well as an outpatient option in an environment that exudes the kind of beach house optimism one would expect from an Orange County recovery outfit.

Journey Malibu

Want many of the luxury amenities A-listers have come to expect—including an enormous backyard with a pool and patio, an herb garden, a volleyball net and a spectacular vista of the Santa Monica mountains—with a recovery program to match?

The Ultimate Guide to Rehab

What you need to know when choosing an addiction treatment center.

the fix tv