Legal Weed Might Be Getting Pedestrians Killed, Study Finds

Deaths on US roadways shot up in states where weed is legal in 2017—and dropped across the rest of the country.

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Feb 28 2018, 6:10pm

Photos of a woman texting and weed by Richard Levine/Corbis News/Getty Images and Seth McConnell/Denver Post/Getty Images, respectively

With recreational weed just a dispensary away in nine US states, Americans today are more concerned about the harmful effects of sugar than they are of marijuana. But while many people may think that the worst thing that can happen to you stoned is literally being unable to walk down a mountain, a new study has suggested that legal weed may actually be linked to deaths on US roadways.

Pedestrian deaths have shot up in states where recreational weed is legal, according to a report released Wednesday by the Governor's Highway Safety Association. During the first half of 2017, fatalities spiked 16.4 percent in the seven states that legalized weed between 2012 and 2016, plus Washington, DC. Meanwhile, fatalities dropped 5.8 percent across the rest of the country.

It is important to note that we're not looking at huge increases in pedestrian deaths in the states where weed is legal. In Oregon, for example, fatalities jumped 20 percent from 2016 to 2017—but the total number of people killed only rose from 29 to 35. Still, the study's author thinks the link between the deaths and legal weed—whether it could involve stoned drivers or stoned pedestrians—is "a marker for concern."

"We are not making a definitive, cause-and-effect link to marijuana," the study's author, Richard Retting, told the New York Times. "It may be a canary in a coal mine, an early indicator to address."

Aside from any role weed might play in the spike, Retting suggested smartphones could also be to blame: It's hard to look out for cars barreling toward us with our faces glued to a tiny, highly addictive supercomputer at all hours of the day. It's a problem that's recently led some cities to outlaw using smartphones while crossing the street.

Whatever the cause, the number of pedestrians killed by cars nationwide has skyrocketed recently, shooting up by 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, the study found. And with the number of deaths in 2017 on par with those recorded the year before—roughly 6,000—it doesn't look like the trend is going away.

"It’s downright disturbing," Retting told USA Today. "People outside cars are dying at levels we haven't seen in 25 years."

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Related: Driving While High Versus Driving Sober

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