Will Legalized Marijuana Increase Motor Vehicle Accidents?

Colorado officials and citizens alike are trying to understand the potential impact of marijuana legalization on the frequency of drugged driving.

Despite the legalization of pot in Colorado for medicinal purposes in 2010 and for adult personal use in 2012, it is of course still illegal to drive drugged. Not only may drivers in the state be criminally liable for such driving, but also civilly liable in court if they hurt innocent people in resulting motor-vehicle accidents.

When the Colorado Constitution was amended to allow adults 21 and older to have small amounts of marijuana legally, pot was meant to be regulated in a way similar to alcohol, including state government prevention of related dangerous driving that could cause car accidents.

According to Colorado criminal law, it is still against the law to drive under the influence of or while impaired by marijuana (or marijuana combined with alcohol) despite the drug’s legality for medical uses, and for adult recreational and commercial sales purposes.

Solid data elusive

According to The Denver Post, official tallying of crashes involving illegal marijuana influence and determining whether such accidents are on the increase is difficult for a few reasons:

  • The criminal law under which chemically impaired driving is charged includes both alcohol and drugs, so criminal charge data does not differentiate.
  • The Colorado State Patrol began keeping track of “stoned-driving cases” in 2014, but there is no historical data yet for comparison.
  • The state laboratory that tested blood samples for marijuana closed in 2013 and while smaller, private labs are taking on the job, the fluctuations in testing during this transition make precise data difficult to track.
  • A lab test that finds blood positive for marijuana does not necessarily mean the driver was under the influence; traces of the drug remain in the blood for several days after use.

The newspaper also reports that Colorado officials are actively seeking to resolve this question of how to get solid, meaningful data on marijuana-influenced drivers.

New Colorado studies

In the meantime, two University of Colorado studies have been released that raise interesting issues on the subject, according to The Denver Post. The first looked at fatal car accident trends since marijuana became legally available for medical use, finding that the proportion of Colorado drivers in fatal motor-vehicle accidents went up from legalization in July 2009 through 2011. By comparison, the authors found no such trend in this time in states that do not have legal medical marijuana.

The second study found that the Colorado commercial legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes coincided with people in the state perceiving less risk in the drug’s use. However, the study was inconclusive as to whether it was the change in law that changed attitudes.

Seek legal counsel for personal injury from drug-induced accidents

As the public waits for more conclusive information on these subjects, Colorado drivers must continue to take their duty to drive without influence of or impairment by marijuana seriously. Anyone injured in an accident involving a drug-impaired driver should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to learn about potential legal remedies like a personal injury lawsuit. Likewise, anyone who tragically loses a loved one in such a crash should seek legal advice about the possibility of a wrongful death suit.

Keywords: Colorado, marijuana, legalization, drugged driving, motor-vehicle accident, medical marijuana, car accident, data, stoned driving, University of Colorado, studies, personal injury lawsuit, wrongful death

Scroll to top