Marijuana celebration linked to car accident deaths

New York has not yet legalized the consumption of marijuana for recreational use, and lawmakers in the Empire State may study data coming out of states like Washington and California closely when the time comes to consider such legislation. Those who oppose more liberal marijuana laws often cite worries about impaired driving among their chief concerns, and research published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that these fears may not be completely unfounded.

A research team from the University of British Columbia looked at auto accident data for the April 20 marijuana "holiday" and found that fatality rates were about 12 percent higher than they were the week before or the week after, and they concluded that these additional crashes claimed about 142 lives between 1992 and 2016. The researchers chose 1992 as a starting point because this was when the magazine High Times began to promote April 20 as a day of marijuana celebration.

Other studies have found similar accident surges on holidays such as the Super Bowl and New Year's Eve, but establishing a firm connection between marijuana use and impairment can be difficult for scientists because the body metabolizes THC differently than alcohol. Lawmakers also face a challenge convincing cannabis users that getting behind the wheel after smoking the drug can be dangerous. Officials in Colorado launched an initiative with industry groups and a ride-sharing service to provide alternative transportation on April 20 after a poll revealed that half of the marijuana users in the state were unaware of these risks.

Drivers in New York who cause fatal accidents while under the influence of drugs can face long periods of incarceration on drug possession and vehicular homicide charges, but the dependent family members of their victims may still be able to pursue civil remedies. When reckless motorists are unable to make restitution because they are deceased or behind bars, experienced personal injury attorneys may initiate wrongful death litigation against their estates or car insurance companies.

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