- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2017

DENVER — Insurance claims for car crashes have jumped since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, spurring concerns about traffic safety as more drivers take to the roads under the influence.

A first-of-its-kind study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that collision claim frequency was “about 3 percent higher than would have been expected without legalization.”

“More drivers admit to using marijuana, and it is showing up more frequently among people involved in crashes,” said the analysis.

Colorado’s collision-claim frequency was 14 percent higher than that in nearby states after the state unveiled the nation’s first legal recreational marijuana market in January 2014.

Claim frequency was 6.2 percent higher in Oregon, where recreational pot sales began in October 2015, and 4.6 percent higher in Washington, which opened retail marijuana shops in July 2014.

“The combined-state analysis shows that the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have experienced more crashes,” says Matt Moore, the IIHS’s Highway Loss Data Institute senior vice president, in a statement. “The individual state analyses suggest that the size of the effect varies by state.”

The study compared the frequency of collision claims from 2012 to 2016 with that of control states without recreational pot sales, including Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, as well as Colorado, Oregon and Washington prior to legalization.

“The combined effect for the three states was smaller but still significant at 3 percent,” Mr. Moore said. “The combined analysis uses a bigger control group and is a good representation of the effect of marijuana legalization overall. The single-state analyses show how the effect differs by state.”

While more drivers have admitted to using marijuana, previous studies about its impact on driving performance have been inconclusive, the institute said.

A 2014 report by the Colorado Department of Transportation found that 84 of 684 drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for marijuana, while more than a third of the 488 fatalities involved alcohol, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

“Worry that legalized marijuana is increasing crash rates isn’t misplaced,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. “HLDI’s findings on the early experience of Colorado, Oregon and Washington should give other states eyeing legalization pause.”

Five other states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, while 21 states allow comprehensive medical marijuana use, even though pot is still regarded by the federal government as an illegal controlled substance.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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