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May 16, 2014 05:38 PM EDT

Marijuana Use Involved In More Fatal Car Accidents Since Its Commercialization

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Marijuana use has been linked to more fatal car accidents since the commercialization of medical marijuana, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that the proportion of marijuana-positive drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado has increased dramatically since the commercialization of medical marijuana in the middle of 2009.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System covering 1994 to 2011. They examined fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado and in the 34 states that did not have medical marijuana laws, comparing changes over time in the proportion of drivers who were marijuana-positive and alcohol-impaired.

They found that fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado involving at least one driver who tested positive for marijuana accounted for 4.5 percent in the first six months of 1994; this percentage increased to 10 percent in the last six months of 2011.

Based on their findings, Colorado underwent a significant increase in the proportion of drivers in a fatal motor vehicle crash who were marijuana-positive after the commercialization of medical marijuana in the middle of 2009. The increase in Colorado was significantly greater compared to the 34 non-medical marijuana states from mid-2009 to 2011.

The researchers also reported no significant changes over time in the proportion of drivers in a fatal motor vehicle crash who were alcohol-impaired within Colorado and comparing Colorado to the 34 non-medical marijuana states.

Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, lead author of the study, said the study raises important concerns about the increase in the proportion of drivers in a fatal motor vehicle crash who were marijuana-positive since the commercialization of medical marijuana in Colorado, particularly in comparison to the 34 non-medical marijuana states.

"While the study does not determine cause and effect relationships, such as whether marijuana-positive drivers caused or contributed to the fatal crashes, it indicates a need for better education and prevention programs to curb impaired driving," researchers said in a statement.

The findings were recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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