How do we reduce the road toll and beer consumption? By going to pot

Alf has become a convert to the call for legalising marijuana for medical purposes.

This – he argues – will help to reduce the road toll.

It will reduce beer consumption for good measure.

Yep, he knows he was right behind the Government earlier this year, when it rejected on the Law Commission’s recommendation to conduct clinical trials for the medicinal use of cannabis.

But hey – we live and learn.

Alf is confident he will have the backing of most Kiwis, who are keen to see the road toll reduced, when he calls for this issue to be revisited.

Significant numbers of Kiwis are wowsers, too, who want less booze consumed.

Great. Now let’s see how they react to a new study by two economists which shows medical marijuana legalization laws in the US have resulted in a nearly 9 percent drop in traffic deaths, and a 5 percent reduction in beer sales.

The paper is titled “Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption” and can be found here.

It says:

To date, 16 states have passed medical marijuana laws, yet very little is known about their effects. Using state-level data, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and a variety of outcomes. Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors. In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption. Our estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

The secondary author of this study, a Professor Daniel Rees from the University of Colorado, has admitted he didn’t expect those results.

But he stands by them.

“If critics want to collect the data themselves, boy, the results will jump out at them the way they jumped out at us,” he said. “Our results are pretty robust. We’re pretty confident they’re going to hold up.”

Rees teamed up with D. Mark Anderson, an assistant professor of economics at Montana State University, to study US government statistics on road fatalities and drug behaviour to look at what happened in 13 medical marijuana states between 1990 and 2009.

They found the safety effect of legalization is comparable to gains from increasing the legal drinking age to 21, or mandating seat belts for those ages 14 to 18. The safety effect is even greater in the groups most at-risk for road fatalities: young, male, intoxicated, weekend night drivers.

“Legalization is associated with a 19-percent decrease in the fatality rate of 20-29 year-olds,” the study states.

Rees’ admits his hypothesis had been that “this is going to be crash central”.

The findings show the very opposite.

Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the study also found that medical marijuana laws “are associated with decreases in the number of drinks consumed, especially among 20- through 29-year-olds.”

“Using data from the Beer Institute, we find beer sales fell after [legalization] comes into effect, suggesting marijuana substitutes for beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage among adults.”

The drop in drinking and the safety effect in the groups most associated with alcohol-involved road fatalities was so large “that a lightbulb went off,” Rees said. “’Oh, what’s going on? People are switching from alcohol to marijuana’.”

Rees at this point became speculative in his chat with the newspaper.

He suspects young males are the early adopters to changing medical marijuana law and as the overall climate of prohibition cools in a state, they switch from booze to the weed.

“My suspicion is as soon as you open the door to individuals growing [medical] marijuana, you’ve opened the door to diversion to the recreational markets.”

Rees and Anderson both have experience studying risk behaviour among youth: Anderson worked on explaining methamphetamine’s decline in other states and Rees has worked on papers about marijuana and alcohol use.

Alf looks forward to his first opportunity to speak out on the matter in the new Parliament.


One Response to How do we reduce the road toll and beer consumption? By going to pot

  1. nasska says:

    The Member for Eketahuna North shows great wisdom. His humble correspondent, however, doubts that Alf’s fellow legislators will have equally open minds.

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