The legalization of marijuana is a hotly debated subject, and one that tends to bring out a lot of fierce arguments from both sides of the debate. It can be hard to sift through so many poorly supported arguments and claims to find unbiased fact. A lack of standard guidelines for researchers to follow in their studies has also lead to a wide range of contradicting results, used as fact by pro- and anti-marijuana debaters alike.

A recent study in several states has gathered a lot of attention, stating that fatal car crashes involving marijuana use have tripled in the last ten years. This study is based on data from six states where marijuana is legal for medical use – California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia – that perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal accidents. Like many studies on the subject of marijuana, every article written about it seems to have started a war of insults in its comments.

Those who are pro-legalization argue that signs of marijuana use can stay in a smoker’s system for a long time, and their presence in a driver involved in a fatal accident does not prove that the driver was under the influence at the time of the accident, nor that it was the cause of the accident. While this is true, there is still some connection between the legalization of marijuana and the rise of traffic incidents involving marijuana users, and the reports can’t just be ignored; researchers are improving their methods of gathering data on the subject and creating new, more accurate guidelines in order to figure out what these numbers really mean.

Those with a strong anti-legalization viewpoint often equate the effects and dangers of marijuana with alcohol, particularly when referring to driving under the influence. This is a flawed viewpoint, as the effects of the two substances are very different; after all, marijuana use rarely causes violent behavior, poses little to no danger of overdose or withdrawal symptoms, and is not as addictive as alcohol.

However, marijuana supporters go further with claims that marijuana actually has a positive effect on driving safety, with benefits ranging from increased awareness to aiding relaxation and clear thinking, and a lower likelihood for risky driving than sober drivers. While marijuana does not inhibit a driver’s ability to the same extent or in all the same ways as alcohol, there is no question that it is still a mind-affecting substance that impairs judgment, decision-making ability, and reaction times to sudden events. Marijuana users tend to be more aware of the fact that they are under the influence than drunk drivers, but compensation can too easily turn into overcompensation, and driving slower is not the same as driving more safely.

Supporters are also quick to defend their substance of choice by redirecting attention to other legal substances that pose a greater risk to drivers, including many prescription drugs as well as alcohol; but being “not as bad” as other substances does not make marijuana risk-free. It is dangerous and irresponsible to use any such substance when getting behind a wheel, regardless of its legality.  And don’t forget – driving under the influence means any substance, not just alcohol.  A driver can still be arrested for DUI if they are in any way impaired, even while taking legal prescription medications.

There is no debate over whether it is permissible to drive under the influence of any substance. Certainly the legalization of marijuana is blurring the lines of intoxicated driving. The numbers don’t lie though, driving under the influence of marijuana has led to more traffic accidents – fatal or not.  The bottom line is, just don’t do it.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a marijuana addiction, Scottsdale Recovery Center is here to help. Call us today at 602.346.9142 or visit us online at

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