Study: Cannabis legalization in Canada is not connected to a rise in traffic injuries

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Cannabis has been stigmatized with more than one negative reputation over the years, from the misleading “lazy stoner stereotype” to the “gateway drug” theory — two myths that have already been busted. Fortunately, as more countries around the world begin to embrace the cannabinoid-rich plant, the truth is starting to surface.

In the latest review of traffic-injury emergency department data from Alberta and Ontario, Dr. Russ Callaghan and his group of researchers have found that the legalization of cannabis in Canada a law that was effectuated with the effectuation of the “Cannabis Act” on October 17, 2018 does not contribute to a rise in road injuries.

The investigative report by Northern Medical Program (NMP) professor Dr. Russ Callaghan who teaches at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) was featured in the international peer-reviewed scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Canada’s cannabis legalization and road traffic incidents: Legal weed did not impact road traffic incidents 

Titled, “Canada’s cannabis legalization and drivers’ traffic-injury presentations to emergency departments in Ontario and Alberta, 2015-2019,” this study into the effects of cannabis legalization on road traffic incidents assessed weekly provincial cases of traffic-injury emergency department (ED) incidents among all drivers and youth drivers located in Alberta and Ontario.

According to the findings, youths were characterized as individuals aged between 14 and 17 years in the Canadian province of Alberta, whereas those aged 16-18 in Ontario fell into the “youth” category.

Contrary to popular belief, the university researchers found no significant connection between traffic-injury emergency department visits among all types of drivers and legalization.

“Implementation of cannabis legalization has raised a common concern that such legislation might increase traffic-related harms, especially among youth,” confirmed Dr. Callaghan. “Our results, however, show no evidence that legalization was associated with significant changes in emergency department traffic-injury presentations.” 

In order to glean these findings, Dr. Callaghan and his team analyzed data from April 1, 2015, to December 31, 2019. 

Canada’s cannabis legalization and road traffic incidents: Findings described as “surprising” by university professor

“Our findings are somewhat surprising,” says Dr. Callaghan, who told reporters that he prophesized an increase of cannabis consumption and cannabis-impaired driving among the entire population. The qualified doctor noted that he previously believed this estimated pattern would likely contribute to a surge in traffic-injury incidents at emergency departments. 

“It is possible that our results may be due to the deterrent effects of stricter federal legislation, such as Bill C-46, coming into force shortly after cannabis legalization. These new traffic-safety laws imposed more severe penalties for impaired driving due to cannabis, alcohol, and combined cannabis and alcohol use.”

A number of researchers participated in the project, including UNBC researchers, researchers from Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as well as researchers from Dalhousie University and the University of Victoria.

Currently, a follow-up study is being carried out by Callaghan and his group of researchers. That particular study will delve into the repercussions that cannabis legalization has had on the level of fatalities across Canada between the years 2010 and 2020. Callaghan expects the study’s results to be published in the summer of 2022. 

The study was partially financed by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Catalyst Grant (Cannabis Research in Urgent Priority Areas).