The impact of recreational cannabis markets on motor vehicle accident, suicide, and opioid overdose fatalities

In the U.S., an increasing number of states are legalizing regulated commercial markets for recreational cannabis, which allows private industry to produce, distribute, and sell marijuana to those 21 and older. The health impacts of these markets are not fully understood. Preliminary evidence suggests recreational markets may be associated with increased use among adults, which indicates there may be downstream health impacts on outcomes related to cannabis use. Three causes of death that are linked to cannabis use are motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and opioid overdose. Drawing on data from U.S. death certificates from 2009 to 2019, we conducted a difference-in-differences analysis to estimate the impact of recreational markets on fatalities from motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and opioid overdose in seven states: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, California, and Massachusetts. States with comprehensive medical cannabis programs with similar pre-trends in deaths were used as comparisons. For each outcome, a pooled estimate was generated with a meta-analysis using random effects models. The results revealed substantial increases in crash fatalities in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and California of 16%, 22%, 20%, and 14%, respectively. Based on estimates from all seven states, recreational markets were associated with a 10% increase in motor vehicle accident deaths, on average. This study found no evidence that recreational markets impacted suicides. Most states saw a relative reduction in opioid overdose death that ranged between 3 and 28%. On average, recreational markets were associated with an 11% reduction in opioid overdose fatalities.


Motor vehicle accidents; Opioid overdose; Recreational cannabis; Suicide.

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