Friday, August 25, 2017

Update: Data on MJ-related traffic deaths in Colorado

Yesterday I wrote this piece condemning the Department of Justice for citing the skewed reporting of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) in its attempt to de-legitimize legal marijuana programs in several states. Among the conclusions presented in the HIDTA report was that legal marijuana directly led to an increase in marijuana-related traffic fatalities in Colorado. A report by the Northwest HIDTA drew similar conclusions for Washington state.

As I explained yesterday, the data in the HIDTA reports may come from legitimate sources, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it is intentionally presented and analyzed in a way that makes legalization seem like an apocalyptic scenario, which it just plain isn't. Claims such as rising rates of teenage use aren't backed up by other, less problematic studies, such as the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey. Rising rates of ER visits related to marijuana aren't so much evidence for pot harming society as they are for people recklessly or accidentally over-consuming a non-lethal substance. In its reporting, HIDTA clearly only included data from categories that it knew would show negative trends, so again, the group's reports are not the most honest lens through which to view the effects of legalization.
Coloradans, let's not drive high, mmk?

That said, today The Denver Post's Cannabist section published an excellent analysis of state and NHTSA data that confirms RMHIDTA's claim that marijuana-related traffic fatalities have increased in Colorado since legalization. I encourage anyone reading this to go read that article; reporter David Migoya and the rest of the Cannabist staff did a lot of solid, painstaking work to put the data in context, clarify important methods and terms, and present the information in a way that allows the reader to draw reasoned conclusions instead of making a knee-jerk judgment.

Though it reached a similar conclusion, the Cannabist's reporting is in direct contrast with that of HIDTA; data on drugged driving is fraught for a number of reasons (again, go read the article!), but the Cannabist staff made every attempt to clarify and contextualize it. HIDTA, on the other hand, simply presented the data as uncomplicated, speak-for-themselves numbers in order to support its rigid ideology that drugs are bad and we shouldn't be legalizing them. There is far more value in the former method than in the latter, not the least of which being that people are more likely to trust, and therefore act on, conclusions reached by methods like the Post's.

There are two big takeaways from today's Denver Post report: 1) the best evidence so far shows that marijuana-related traffic fatalities are indeed rising in Colorado, and 2) in contrast to what HIDTA implies in its own report on the same data, the context provided in the Post shows that this trend alone is hardly an indication that legalization is failing or has failed.

What the Post report says to me - and I would guess to most rational observers - is that the state and the cannabis industry need to do a much better job at educating consumers and the public about the risks of drugged driving, and law enforcement needs to nail down a reliable way to test for marijuana impairment -  and guess what? The Cannabist has a great article on that, too!

Have a great weekend, everyone - stay safe, and don't drive high!

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