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Legal recreational marijuana: data shows the minimal connection between teen use and traffic deaths

use the cannabis and drive

Since 2012, at least 11 states have proposed adult-use marijuana in their jurisdictions, some of which are going to the ballots next month. On the other hand, researchers are concerned about the effects of relaxed marijuana laws. Recent data from states that have legalized cannabis for adult use show a negligible connection between legal recreational marijuana and its impact on teen use and traffic deaths. 

Are more young people using cannabis?

One of the major concerns with adult-use legalization is whether it will cause more young people to use cannabis and lead to more deaths on the highways. However, data shows little change in both areas. 

For instance, Colorado and Washington had the highest number of cannabis users among young people from 2011-2015. However, state data don’t show an increase in the figures even after they legalized marijuana for adult use. 

The benefits outweigh the threats… The worst outcome for me would have been an increase in adolescent use, which the data doesn’t show, said Will Humble, former Arizona Director of the Department of Health Services. Humble is currently the Director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

Are there more traffic fatalities?

Another important point for debate about marijuana legalization is whether it will cause more fatalities on the roadways. On this aspect, data shows an overall increase of people who may use the substance and drive in legalized states. However, impaired driving seems not to kill more of them. 

And while more drivers may test positive for marijuana, but this doesn’t necessarily amount to impairment. Furthermore, several caveats are revolving around this aspect. For instance, California sees more drugged drivers, but fatalities are on the decline. 

Overall, here is what research shows regarding cannabis legalization and its effect on legalized states:


  • Recreational sales available from 2014
  • Impaired driving fell from 13% in 2016 to 8% in 2017
  • Teen use dropped from 20% in 2014 to 19% in 2017


  • Recreational sales available from 2014
  • Fatal crashes with THC-impaired drivers increased from 7 to 27 between 2013 and 2016
  • Teen use stood at 18% between 2014 and 2018


  • Recreational sales available from 2018
  • Traffic fatalities decreased by 8.3% between 2017 and 2018 (prior to and after legalization)
  • 11th graders who used marijuana in the past 30 days in 2015-2017: 16.7%

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Robert Hill

Robert is an editor-in-chief from Chicago, IL, with vast experience writing about the cannabis industry. He mainly focused on covering general cannabis news, political news, and cannabis crime news worldwide.

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