Though efforts to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Wisconsin have stalled this year, similar efforts elsewhere have resulted in cannabis legalization in 2021 in Connecticut, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.
There are now 19 states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Studies of legalization and crashes
As Wisconsin lawmakers and voters look ahead to a future campaign to make weed legal, they ought to examine the results of new studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
The research in both studies shows that motor vehicle crash rates surged in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado after the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.
“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” said IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey.
Wisconsin lawmakers are undoubtedly motivated by a pair of powerful factors in favor of legalization. Recent polls indicate that slightly more than two-thirds of American adults support legalization.
States that have legalized cannabis are also reporting big gains in tax revenue generated by weed sales.
With marijuana consumption on the rise – self-reporting of cannabis use doubled from 6 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2019 – those extra tens of millions in state tax revenues appear to be sustainable.
Effects on drivers
That consumption increase is of concern to road safety advocates. Driving simulation tests show that drivers who are impaired by marijuana react slower, have more difficulty keeping their vehicle in a lane and make more mistakes than they do when they are sober.
Marijuana advocates counter those arguments by pointing out that drivers high on marijuana tend to drive slower, make fewer attempts to pass other vehicles, and maintain a greater distance between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead.
Jump in injury accidents
The IIHS reports that its most recent study shows that legalization resulted in a 6 percent increase in injury crash rates in California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Washington and a 4 percent increase in fatal crash rates compared to nearby states where recreational marijuana remained illegal.
HLDI says its analysis of car insurance data shows that collision claims by at-fault drivers rose 4 percent after legalization of retail cannabis sales in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington compared with nearby states over 2012-2019.
The results of these studies and others should be part of future debates in Wisconsin and other states contemplating legalization.
Voters and lawmakers alike should consider legalization’s potential impact on road safety and the toll on individual drivers and passengers who sustain injuries in crashes caused by inebriated drivers.