If fewer than 10 percent of Americans drive while high on April 20, the researchers estimate that drug use at 4/20 celebrations more than doubles the risk of a fatal crash, said study co-author Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a professor at the University of Toronto.
Organizers hand out free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill to mark 4/20 and promote legalizing marijuana on April 20, 2017.
The primary analysis compared the number of drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents between 4:20 and 11:59 p.m. on April 20 each year with the corresponding number during the same time of day on 2 control days - 1 week before and 1 week after April 20.
A slight increase in deadly auto crashes has been found to exist on April 20 after 4.20 pm, which is widely known to be the unofficial "high holiday" of marijuana users, an analysis of 25 years of data found.
They found there was a 12% increase in the relative risk of having a fatal collision after 4:20pm that day, with an even higher risk for younger drivers.
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The study, which was published on Monday on JAMA Internal Medicine's website, analyzed United States government data on fatal traffic accidents from 1992 through 2016. The risk was highest among drivers younger than 21, who saw a 38 percent increase in their risk.
Jeff Brubacher, a Vancouver ER doctor and colleague of Dr. Staples, published research three years ago that surveyed just over 1,000 drivers injured across B.C. and found cannabis was the most common recreational drug, after alcohol, used among them, with 7.3 per cent consuming it in the hours preceding their crashes and 12.6 per cent still showing traces of the drug from earlier use.
Jolene Forman, an attorney with Drug Policy Alliance, a NY nonprofit working to reduce the harms of both drug use and prohibition, said factors other than 4/20 celebrations might contribute to the increase in fatal crash rates.
The increased risk of fatal traffic crashes on April 20 was comparable in magnitude to the increased traffic risks observed on Super Bowl Sunday, the authors write. In addition, the study includes data for the last 25 years, and so it includes a period of time well before recreational marijuana became legal.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can impair driving ability. Previous studies have shown that many pot-using motorists drive after partaking and think it's safe to do so. It's not known how common it is for people to drive after smoking pot, but one study of USA college freshmen at two large public universities found that 44 percent of marijuana users said they drove soon after using marijuana within the last month.
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Policy makers may wish to consider these risks when liberalizing marijuana laws, paying particular attention to regulatory and enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.
"That might be an indication of where we should focus our efforts", he said of younger people driving high. Meanwhile, previous studies have found that Colorado and Washington saw no correlation between vehicle crashes and legalized marijuana. Yet the study also says that "absolute risk increases were greatest in NY (excess of 36), Texas (excess of 32), and Georgia (excess of 29)".
The researchers hope that authorities will encourage safer travel options for International Weed Day including designated drivers, taxis, rideshares, and public transit. Cannabis retailers and 4/20 event organizations could also help by warning users not to drive while high, they said.
The take-away for policymakers is: Traffic injuries are a preventable disease.
Ensuring there is no post-legalization spike in drug-impaired driving is a core concern for the federal Liberal government as it continues to work toward completing this historic policy shift this summer.
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