By / May 16, 2023

Road Accidents Rate in Canada Has No Link With Cannabis Legalization

The legalization of cannabis in Canada for adults and the increase in its retail sales have not contributed to an increase in road accidents in Canada, according to research published earlier this month in the Drug and Alcohol Review.

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Canadian Road Accidents and Cannabis Research

Scientists from Canada analyzed the number of road accidents in Toronto in the years preceding and immediately after the country legalized cannabis for adults.

According to their report, “Neither the CCA (Canadian Cannabis Act) nor the NCS (number of cannabis stores per capita) was associated with co-dependent changes in road traffic safety. During the first year of CRUL’s (Cannabis Act’s recreational use legislation) implementation in Toronto, no significant changes were observed in terms of road accidents, the number of road traffic casualties, and KSI (killed or seriously injured) for all road users.”

In the United States, the risk of increased road accidents due to driving under the influence of cannabis is often cited as a reason for not legalizing cannabis for adults. However, over the years, various studies have reported conflicting information, leading to different results, depending on who you ask and their stance on cannabis.

Cannabis, Alcohol, and Road Accidents: What Does the Data Say?

For example, a study conducted in the USA in 2021 suggested that the road accident rate increased in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, where recreational cannabis use and retail sales are legal, as reported by Newsweek.

However, if you read the entire article, you will notice that it mentions at the end that the study, which relied on information from injured drivers in hospital emergency rooms in Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California, observed an increase in the number of road accidents only when cannabis was combined with alcohol.

According to the CDC, in 2020, 11,654 people died in road accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers, accounting for 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the USA. In addition, the estimated annual cost of alcohol-impaired driving deaths was approximately $123.3 billion in 2020.

Alcohol is not only legal but also not subject to the same absurd tax laws as cannabis, which, by suffocating the legal market, seem only to allow the black market to thrive. In 2022 alone, the cannabis industry contributed over $1.8 billion in additional taxes.

Canadian Studies Confirm: Cannabis Does Not Increase the Risk of Road Accidents

The findings from the Drug and Alcohol Review study in Toronto align with other Canadian research. For instance, a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2021 “found no evidence that the implementation of the Cannabis Act [which legalized adult cannabis use in Canada] was associated with significant changes in patterns of ED [emergency department] visits for all drivers after motor vehicle collisions or, more specifically, young drivers after motor vehicle collisions.”

As noted by NORML, another study published earlier this year also concluded that “overall, there is no clear evidence that RCL [recreational cannabis legalization] had any impact on ED visit and hospitalization rates due to injuries for both drivers and pedestrians/cyclists across Canada.”

American Perspective on Cannabis and Road Safety

However, in the United States, perceptions regarding the link between cannabis legalization and road accidents are often influenced by regressive and scientifically unfounded views held by Republicans. For example, as reported by Benzinga, in reference to a 2023 bill aimed at restricting the legal market in Connecticut, State Senator Paul Cicarella, a high-ranking member of the Public Safety and Security Committee, told NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck:

“There really is no test that can determine when someone is under the influence of cannabis,” adding that “the false-positive and false-negative rates are so high that, again, that could pose an issue with admitting that into court.”

Indeed, efforts are underway to develop a THC breathalyzer. However, opponents of cannabis fail to understand that people are already using cannabis, whether it is legal or not. While cannabis is considered a generally safe substance, as with any mind-altering substance, appropriate safety measures, such as driving responsibly, should be practiced.

The Direction of Cannabis Policy Changes

Considering these facts, it is evident that arguments related to road safety are often used as a pretext to block cannabis legalization. Nevertheless, scientific data does not support these concerns. In fact, much evidence indicates that cannabis legalization does not lead to an increase in the number of road accidents.

Road accidents and traffic safety are important issues but should not be used as a pretext to maintain unjust and unscientific cannabis laws.

In summary, a decisive and informed approach to cannabis laws is necessary to ensure the safety of all road users. This requires understanding the actual effects of cannabis on driving ability rather than basing policies on unjustified fears and stereotypes or unrelated increases in road accidents.

(Featured image by Jason Bain (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr)

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