There has been an increase by up to 6 percent in the number of highway crashes in four of the states where the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, according to a pair of new studies.
The new reports do not prove there’s a direct risk caused by the use of marijuana among motorists, but they raise caution flags, especially since there is no easy way to test drivers to be sure if they are, in fact, under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, said David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute.
“It’s certainly early in the game,” Harkey told NBC News. But, he warned, “We’re seeing a trend in the wrong direction.”
There are now 30 states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, with Oklahoma the most recent to join the list. Nine states and the District of Columbia now have legalized recreational use. With a Gallup poll showing 64 percent public support, more states are set to follow, including Michigan, where recreational use is on the November ballot.
Since the legalization wave began, safety and health experts have been trying to measure the potential influence on highway safety, though the results so far have been inconsistent and, in some cases, contradictory.
But this is the second year in a row where the IIHS found a troubling trend. A year ago, the non-profit group looked at three states, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. This year, it added Nevada to the list. Harkey said the IIHS also looked at highway crash data in surrounding states to try to control for factors like weather and the economy.
The studies looked at police reports and insurance claims, finding crashes rose between 5.2 percent and 6 percent in states with legalized recreational marijuana compared to neighboring states where such use remained illegal.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Paul A. Eisenstein