- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2018

An uptick in fatal car crashes on April 20 has left researchers to blame marijuana-friendly “4/20” celebrations as the likely culprit.

Motorists are statistically more likely to die in automobile accidents on April 20 than surrounding days, according to a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers scoured crash statistics from 1992 through 2016 and found that a total of 1,369 drivers died in automobile accidents that occurred on April 20 between 4:20 p.m. and 11:59 p.m, or roughly 7.1 fatal crashes per hour.

Only 6.4 fatal crashes occurred per hour between 4:20 p.m. and 11:59 p.m during the weeks before and after April 20 each year, making U.S. roads statistically riskier for drivers during the “high holiday,” according to their report.

“We examined a quarter-century of national data and found a 12 percent increase in the relative risk of a fatal traffic crash after 4:20 pm on April 20 compared with identical time intervals on control days,” wrote the report’s authors, Drs. John Staples and Donald Redelmeier of the University of British Columbia and University of Toronto, respectively.

April 20 has been associated with marijuana for at least the past few decades, and several major cities in the U.S. and Canada usually host annual “4/20” celebrations where participants publicly smoke weed in defiance of federal pot laws at 4:20 p.m., among other festivities. 

“Although the vast majority of Americans do not celebrate 4/20, the observed association was comparable in magnitude to the increase in traffic risks observed on Super Bowl Sunday,” the researchers wrote. “Policy makers may wish to consider these risks when liberalizing marijuana laws, paying particular attention to regulatory and enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.”

While the report didn’t link any of the crashes to cannabis use, its authors said the plant’s psychoactive effects are possibly behind the increased number of fatal crashes recorded on April 20 each year.

“The simplest explanation is that some drivers are impaired by cannabis use, and these drivers are contributing to fatal crashes,” Dr. Staples said. “There should be very clear messaging to the public: don’t drive high.”

Marijuana legalization advocates were quick to call into question the absence of evidence linking cannabis to any of the fatalities cited in the report.

“The data in this paper does not identify whether any of the drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents on the day in question were either under the influence of marijuana or responsible for the accident,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, the nation’s largest cannabis law reform group, told HealthDay.

Twenty-nine states and D.C. have passed laws allowing marijuana for medical purposes. Nine states and the nation’s capital have legalized recreational marijuana, meanwhile, including six where the plant can be purchased from retail dispensaries.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

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