Researchers find surprising DUI trends in states with medical pot

May 27, 2020 by G.W. Schulz

Since 1996, more than 30 states – including Oklahoma – have passed some form of cannabis legalization. These range from strictly regulated medical marijuana that requires a doctor’s prescription to open recreational use.

But as far back as the 1970s, cities big and small around the country attempted their own limited steps toward cannabis legalization by “decriminalizing” it – reclassifying or lowering penalties for its use even as state and federal laws more aggressively prohibited it.

Many cities passed such measures to advance cannabis reform in states where the momentum didn’t otherwise exist. So, how do these cities compare to other similarly sized cities that didn’t make these reforms?

Economists at the University of Arkansas, the University of Kansas, and Bowling Green State University in Ohio wanted to answer this question by finding out if any increase in automobile fatalities occurred in those cities where “decriminalization” had occurred but medical marijuana was otherwise not allowed.

What they Found

Researchers discovered that cities in states where medical marijuana laws existed enjoyed a decrease in the number of automobile fatalities. Teen and young adult males experienced the strongest decline in fatal crashes, dropping some 14% on average.

One theory is that medical marijuana users are leaving their homes less often to drink alcohol, and as a result, fewer DUIs and alcohol-related crashes are occurring.

Cities where marijuana is merely “decriminalized,” meaning penalties are lessened but there are no medical marijuana laws in place, saw an increase in fatalities among teen and young adult males and no change for women and older adults.

“The incentives to travel concurrently or shortly after consuming marijuana are diminished. It is not clear whether consumers are substituting away from other substances or away from travel.”

DUI Standards Remain Unchanged

Despite relaxed rules around the use of cannabis, driving under the influence laws are strict in Oklahoma and leave little room for those who hold medical marijuana cards. Any number of drugs - prescription or otherwise - in one’s system can lead to DUI charges. This includes everything from marijuana and Xanax to muscle relaxers and Lortab.

“It doesn’t matter if you are taking your prescription drugs off label or exactly in accordance with the instructions,” the director of the state Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence told The Oklahoman in 2018. “If a driver is impaired by these medications, they are breaking the law. They are creating a danger to public safety and are subject to arrest and prosecution.”

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