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Road Fatalities In Colorado Have Plummeted Since Marijuana Legalization


‘Mayhem on the roadways’ is how marijuana opponents described how states would be if/when they legalized marijuana. I heard the word ‘epidemic’ thrown around a lot by people like Kevin Sabet and other reefer madness spreaders prior to the 2012 Election during which Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana. The same arguments were made during the 2014 Election during which Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. legalized. So how is that claim going?

An article was recently posted on The Independent which took a close look at traffic fatality statistics in Colorado before and after legalization. Below is an excerpt and graph from that article:

It seems to me that the best way to gauge the effect legalisation has had on the roadways is to look at what has happened on the roads since legalisation took effect. Here’s a month-by-month comparison of highway fatalities in Colorado through the first seven months of this year and last year. For a more thorough comparison, I’ve also included the highest fatality figures for each month since 2002, the lowest for each month since 2002 and the average for each month since 2002.

colorado traffic fatalities marijuana

As you can see from the graph, the two years following legalization (which are the most current stats available) saw a lower than average level of road fatalities, and a significantly lower level compared to highs from previous years. I’m not going to go as far as saying marijuana legalization is the only contributing factor to the reduction in fatalities, but I can safely say that the scary claims made by marijuana opponents prior to legalization have not become reality, and I don’t expect them too. I expect to see similar results from other states that legalize marijuana. Hopefully marijuana opponents will back off of their rhetoric since it’s proving to be false, but I won’t hold my breath.


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Johnny Green


  1. There are a number of statistical lies that are being presented.
    1. If you had a blood alcohol level that would put you near a coma, and you tested positive for THC, it is reported as being “marijuana related,” even though THC was probably not causative whatsoever. Kinda like shooting heroin and dying of an OD, but since you have aspirin (or THC or fill-in-the blank) in your blood, it is attributed to the aspirin.
    2. The numbers are still tiny. There was an article about “Marijuana related calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison Center is now in double digits” meaning there were now 11 calls. The AAPCC does not issue any warnings regarding THC use and toxicity.
    2. THC was not routinely tested in the blood so any year-over-year increase is meaningless at this point.
    3. No one really knows how much THC affects your driving. Most studies outside of active prohibitionists like NIDA show that its effects are minimal. There are hundreds of studies, take a look on Google. NORML has a bunch of links. http://norml.org/library/item/marijuana-and-driving-a-review-of-the-scientific-evidence. The 5ng number used by the state is absurd, it is indicative that you used cannabis in the last few days.
    4. As another comment pointed out, the issue in the end is simple. If traffic fatalities are down, then cannabis is responsible for a net increase in safety. This holds true for other areas such as domestic violence, where alcohol is probably causative of at least half of the incidents.
    The argument that “now we have n deaths from cannabis shows what a bad mistake legalization is,” is like saying there are were some deaths from vaccines (there are) so they should be banned, even if banning them results in 10,000’s or 100,000’s of deaths.

  2. The data presented here is completely consistent with the official findings as posted by the State of Colorado: https://www.codot.gov/library/traffic/safety-crash-data/fatal-crash-data-city-county/historical_fatals.pdf/at_download/file

    You can see the significant downward trend since 2002, and the last three years are among the lowest we’ve seen this decade. Your “findings” isolate ‘marijuana-related’ fatalities without comparing that data to overall trends. Of course more drivers are testing positive for marijuana, marijuana is more available now and it stays in your system longer than any other drug. A positive test doesn’t indicate impairment with marijuana. In fact, we can look to another statistic posted by the State of Colorado to dispute this claim as well, because cannabis-related fatalities are recorded as “drugged driving” incidents: https://www.codot.gov/safety/alcohol-and-impaired-driving/druggeddriving/assets/fatal-data-drug.pdf

    This data doesn’t include 2014, the year that the first recreational dispensaries opened, but plenty of people were smoking from 2012 onwards, and plenty of people were smoking in the medical days as well. You can see that the percentage of drivers involved in a fatal crash testing positive for cannabis fluctuates between 2% to 8%. It has never even reached 10% so where the fuck did your stats come from? You can also see that there isn’t really a significant trend there, it’s a random distribution. Meanwhile, the number of fatalities involving a drugged driver fluctuates between 6% and 24%. Neither has a very significant trend.

    So overall fatalities are down, fatalities related to cannabis have never exceeded 9% of this overall number, but other drugs are responsible for around 20% of these fatalities. According to CDOT, alcohol-related fatalities typically make up about 33% of the overall fatal accident rate, though I couldn’t find any hard numbers on that. In comparison, cannabis-related fatalities are surprisingly low and haven’t increased significantly since 2012, they’ve stayed around the same percentage since 2002.

    I don’t know what ‘organization’ you’re talking about, but as far as Colorado is concerned, the only organization tracking this data is the State of Colorado. If the statistics did not came from the State of Colorado, they are BS statistics.

  3. Clever. But what I want to know is: did total fatalities increase or decrease. If marijuana related fatalities went up 10X but total deaths declined I’d say the policy was a success. And what exactly does “cannabis related” mean? And what kind of statistical relations are there? What is the mean? The standard deviation? Are the numbers far enough from zero to allow a Gaussian distribution to be used as an approximation?

    What you are presenting are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Clever. Too clever by half.

  4. I don’t know where you got your statistics from, but they’re wrong. The government organization responsible for tracking data related to legalized Marijuana just released a report two days ago at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/71l0rxorj3noyx3/2015%20FINAL%20LEGALIZATION%20OF%20MARIJUANA%20IN%20COLORADO%20THE%20IMPACT.pdf?dl=0

    Some interesting findings including:

    In 2014, when retail marijuana stores began operating, there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in just one year.

    Colorado marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 92 percent from 2010 – 2014.
    During the same time periods all traffic deaths only increased 8 percent respectively.

    In 2009, Colorado marijuana-related traffic deaths involving operators testing positive for marijuana represented 10 percent of all traffic fatalities.
    By 2014, that number nearly doubled to 19.26 percent.

  5. Vicki Gibson Pigg on

    Actually I would expect to be lower since if you drive while under the influence you tend to go s l o w e r. So if anyone hits you, you’re probably only going to dent a fender rather flip the car over. Just my humble opinion

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