Colorado has become a study case for other states considering the legalization of marijuana. With the introduction of legal marijuana, it’s difficult to tell whether cannabis has had any impact other than increasing tourism. Two new studies from the University of Colorado analyze the medically-legal period after 2009. One shows a small increase of marijuana’s involvement in traffic accidents. The other notes a change in the public’s risk perception of cannabis.
The first study looks over accident statistics from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System after 2009, when marijuana was legalized for medical use. The numbers for marijuana-positive accidents are compared with alcohol-positive accidents to create a control group. The idea being that alcohol laws stayed constant where marijuana laws were changing. When comparing pre-marijuana-legalization (1994-2009) to post marijuana-legalization (2009-2011), there was a small increase in marijuana positive accidents and no significant change in alcohol positive trends.
Conclusive? Not really. With the legalization of marijuana, the general presence of marijuana would be expected to increase. So, having more evidence of marijuana sounds incriminating – but it can’t be proven to be the cause factor of the accidents. All that the information offers is that marijuana is now commonly present at accident scenes.
In comes study number two. Here, instead of looking at the possible results of increased marijuana use, this study looks at the perception the public has towards marijuana. By using the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the study compares risk perception in 2010-2011 compared to 2007-2008. Namely, it takes into account the number of people reporting marijuana use 1-2 times a week as a “great risk.” After the introduction of medically legal marijuana, this number dropped significantly. It also accompanies a growing suggestion of abuse/dependence on cannabis from ages 12+.
Combined, the two studies show that the abuse of marijuana could be impacting Colorado in a negative way. While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it’s suggestive enough to make concerns rise. The debate over marijuana harm vs. benefit is ongoing – but marijuana abuse or dependence is known to damage the brain. People who start to smoke in their teen years have the highest impact. A ‘high’ from marijuana lasts 4-5 hours and stays in the body’s system for more than a week. Both studies urge lawmakers to better educate teenagers on the risks of marijuana and to provide easily accessible help for people who have become dependent on or are abusing cannabis.