Higher, Faster, Deadlier: How Marijuana Use is Fueling a Crisis on America’s Roadways


The recent surge in marijuana use has raised concerns about its impact on public health, particularly in relation to impaired driving. Despite the growing trend of marijuana legalization, the number of deaths on American roads has increased, with many involving drivers who were under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the percentage of car crash deaths in the US involving marijuana has risen from 4.2% in 2000 to 11.2% in 2018. Furthermore, the percentage of car crash deaths involving both marijuana and alcohol has increased from 4.8% to 10.3% over the same period.

Monitoring the Future, a survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that the percentage of Americans aged 19-30 who use marijuana daily has more than doubled from 3.8% in 2000 to 7.8% in 2018. This rise in daily marijuana use closely tracks the increase in car crash deaths involving marijuana.

From 2018 to 2022, the percentage of Americans who use marijuana daily rose by 45% among 19-to-30-year-olds and 51% among 35-to-50-year-olds. If the proportion of car crash deaths involving marijuana also rose by a similar percentage, that would mean that the proportion of car crash deaths involving marijuana has increased from 21.5% in 2018 to around 31.1-32.5% in 2022, approaching one-third of all car crash deaths in the US.

The connection between marijuana and alcohol use in relation to impaired driving is also concerning. Boston University’s School of Public Health notes that little attention has been given to the connection between the two substances, and that cannabis increases the likelihood of alcohol use in crash deaths.

The lack of a reliable test for detecting marijuana impairment makes it challenging for law enforcement to catch and prosecute stoned drivers. Former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters and former Attorney General Bill Barr have also noted that today’s marijuana is more potent than it was in the past, making it more dangerous.

The Biden administration’s plan to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III substance, despite the Obama-era DEA’s conclusion that it has a high potential for abuse and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use, is also concerning. This would grant Big Marijuana easier access to banking services and allow it to write off business expenses, potentially leading to more dangerous and impaired driving.

The impact of marijuana use on public health is multifaceted, including increased air pollution, decreased motivation and vigor, and the risk of death on America’s roads. The legalization of marijuana is a failed experiment that prioritizes the desires of a minority of Americans over the safety of the wider citizenry and their loved ones.

Jeffrey H. Anderson
Jeffrey H. Anderson
Jeffrey H. Anderson is president of the American Main Street Initiative, a think tank for everyday Americans, and served as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2017 to 2021.

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