Marijuana-related deadly crashes decreasing since legalization of recreational pot

Posted at 9:03 AM, Jul 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-26 14:43:13-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Las Vegas is in the middle of the 100 deadliest days on the roads and with July marking the two year anniversary of legal recreational marijuana, 13 Action News is taking a look at how the changes have impacted safety on the roads.

The Nevada Office of Traffic Safety recently released new numbers, showing marijuana related fatalities in Clark County had gone down. The number spiked in 2017 immediately after the legalization of marijuana. However, within a year, those numbers decreased by about 30%.

Other states have seen similar trends, showing only a temporary increase in fatalities. According to a studydone by the Society for the Study of Addiction, after the legalization of recreational marijuana, traffic deaths increased in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. However, the increase was only temporary. The numbers went back to normal after about a year.

Local authorities say they hope to see those numbers in the valley continue to decline.

"We are hoping that everybody who is using this narcotic, which is legal, is responsible and doesn't drive," says Larry Hadfield with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Statistics involving impairment generally take about six months to process, so that's why we're just now getting a look at these comparisons.

Since the legalization, law enforcement says they are being faced with new challenges, since many drivers have misconceptions about marijuana and driving. According to Nevada law, a driver does not necessarily have to be high to get a DUI. As long as the driver's blood contains the minimum prohibited amount, it's illegal.

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Local law enforcement says that's been the challenge. They've experienced drivers who may not have smoked for days, even weeks, and think they're ok but according to a blood test, still have marijuana in their system.

"It doesn't matter when you've smoked it, it's the signs that you're showing, that when you're driving that vehicle, that you're under the influence and that officer believes it's unlawful," says Hadfield.

Nevada law does have a legal limit for marijuana allowed in a driver's system, but the legislative session has commissioned studies, and that limit could change in the coming years.