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Study shows shocking link between accidents, medical marijuana

History was made this past August when Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill authorizing the creation of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program here in the state of Illinois.

For those unfamiliar with the specifics of the law, which took effect on January 1, it establishes a four-year pilot program in which those individuals suffering from certain debilitating conditions can use a special ID card to purchase up to two-and-half ounces of marijuana. Here, the marijuana will be sold at 60 state-regulated dispensaries, while the aforementioned ID cards can only be issued by physicians who have established relationships with their patients.

While state officials are still working out the specifics of the medical marijuana program, they may want to pause to examine a very interesting study out of Colorado concerning the correlation between medical marijuana and fatal car accidents. 

The study, performed by researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, set out to determine whether the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased when the state commercialized the drug for medicinal purposes in mid-2009.

In order to find answers, the researchers turned to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is essentially a comprehensive car accident database managed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Here, they compared and contrasted the rate of fatal car crashes from 1994 to 2011 in Colorado with the 34 states that didn't have medical marijuana laws in place during this same timeframe.

Somewhat shockingly, they determined that post-commercialization of the drug there was indeed a spike in the number of fatal car accidents in Colorado involving at least one marijuana-impaired driver.

Specifically, they found that the number of fatal car accidents involving a pot-impaired driver accounted for 4.5 percent of all fatal accidents during the first part of 1994 and that this number jumped to 10 percent during the latter half of 2011.

The researchers also found that this rise was considerably higher when compared with the 34 that didn't have medical marijuana laws and that the number of fatal car accidents in Colorado involving at least one driver who tested positive for the presence of alcohol remained virtually unchanged over the same timeframe.

"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," wrote the researchers.

Here's hoping Illinois lawmakers and officials take this study into consideration when examining the future of medical marijuana.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a car accident caused by a negligent or impaired driver.

Source: The University Herald, "Marijuana use involved in more fatal car accidents since its commercialization," Jaleesa Baulkman, May 16, 2014; The Huffington Post, "Illinois medical marijuana bill signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn," August 1, 2013

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