Marijuana traffic deaths in Nevada declined a year after legalization

August 6, 2019

Tyson Fisher

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New stats from the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety add to the complicated debate about legalized marijuana’s role in crash rates. In Nevada, marijuana-related traffic fatalities went down in 2018, the second year of legalized recreational use.

In July, Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety released its annual substance-involved fatalities from the previous year. Two of four categories showed an annual decrease, including marijuana fatalities (down 25%) and alcohol fatalities (down 17.39%).

According to KTNV-TV, the number of marijuana-related traffic fatalities “spiked” in Clark County in 2017, the first year recreational marijuana was legalized in the state. Last year, that number decreased by 30%. Of the 27 marijuana fatalities, 19 were in Clark County in 2018. For 2017, Clark County was responsible for 27 of 36 marijuana fatalities.

However, there is not enough data to make any definitive conclusions. A Nevada Office of Traffic Safety spokesman told Land Line that reporting is a federally regulated activity. Alcohol impaired driving data was the only data set required by the federal government before 2017. With only two years reporting of marijuana deaths and with no data before to compare crash stats before legalization, it is difficult to come to any conclusions.

On the other hand, Nevada’s most recent report is consistent with research conducted by Australian researchers Tyler Lane and Wayne Hall. That study found only one additional traffic fatality a month followed by a downward trend in states with legalized recreational marijuana.

Accounting for the initial increase, researchers posit that this could be due to a “celebratory response to legalization.” Similarly, traffic fatalities increases on April 20, commonly referred to as 4/20, as marijuana use increases. Also, legalization could attract new users who lack the experience and tolerance with marijuana.

However, once the party dies down, the research suggests that not only do traffic deaths begin to stabilize to levels before legalization, but there is actually a slight reduction. Results show that the initial increase lasted about a year before going down, as seen in Nevada’s report.

Per Nevada state law, motorists are allowed up to 2 nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system while driving. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Nevada law does not differentiate penalties for marijuana-impaired driving from alcohol-impaired driving.

Although marijuana and alcohol fatalities when down last year, “other drugs” and polysubstance fatalities increased. Traffic deaths that involved drugs other than marijuana went up 50% from 12 fatalities to 18. In Clark County alone, that number increased from six to 11. Polysubstance deaths, fatalities that involved a combination of drugs and/or alcohol, increased by nearly 35% from 75 deaths to 101.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.