Colorado auto fatalities have increased, but cannabis isn’t necessarily to blame


Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

The number of people who have died in car accidents who tested positive for cannabis has been steadily increasing in Colorado since 2013, according to The Denver Post. Anti-cannabis activists have been trying to blame auto deaths on legalization for years, but is there a direct connection between the two?

“Colorado transportation and public safety officials, however, say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana,” the Post states. “Positive test results reflected in the NHTSA data do not indicate whether a driver was high at the time of the crash since traces of marijuana use from weeks earlier also can appear as a positive result.”

Since 2013, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of people who died in car accidents in Colorado. The number of people who test positive for cannabis has increased 145 percent in that time.

“Unlike alcohol, THC can remain detectable in the bloodstream for days or weeks, when any impairment wears off in a matter of hours,” Taylor West, former deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told the Post. “So all those numbers really tell us is that, since legal adult-use sales began, a larger number of people are consuming cannabis and then, at some point … (are) driving a car.”

Art Way, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office, told Cannabis News Box that he also doesn’t think legalization is proving to be causing more accidents.

“A marijuana-related traffic fatality is any fatal accident involving at least one driver who has THC in their system,” Way said. “Whether that person was at fault or actually impaired is not determined or necessary for the distinction. Essentially, you could have two drivers both with THC in their system involved in a fatal accident due to inclement weather and this would be considered a marijuana-related traffic fatality.”

Way said alcohol and people mixing other drugs cause more accidents than cannabis does, but he does think it’s important to continue to educate the public on the dangers of driving too high. It’s not safe to drive when you’re too high, but Way doesn’t think that many people actually do that.

“Aggressive public education is part and parcel of a public health approach,” Way said. “That said, data reveals most people are not interested in driving when at the peak of their high.”