Some of Washington and Colorado’s conservative neighbors were anxious when the states made history and legalized weed in 2012. They were worried foolish voters legalizing drugs in one state would bring a nasty criminal element to surrounding states. Nebraska and Oklahoma even sued Colorado over what they claimed were harmful effects of legalization leaking into their states (the lawsuit died after the Supreme Court declined to hear their case).
But new research is showing that our neighbors should probably have said thank you when we legalized weed.
A new study from Utah State University (USU) found that Idaho saw a significant decrease in alcohol-related car crashes after Washington started selling legal pot in 2014. And, interestingly, that decrease in car crashes grew more substantial in areas closer to the Washington state border, and the legal pot that was on the other side.
Benjamin Hansen, an economics professor at USU, used alcohol-involved car crash data from the Idaho Department of Transportation from 2010 to 2017, capturing four years of data before legal pot went on sale in Washington and four years with pot on sale next door. Hansen also analyzed Google searches in Idaho for Washington’s pot dispensaries (and Oregon’s, once Oregon legalized weed in 2014) as well as police search and seizures to establish a statistically significant increase in Idahoans' interest in legal weed nearby.
So, what happens when Idahoans start buying weed across state lines? They get in fewer alcohol-involved car crashes, according to Hansen’s data.
The number of alcohol-involved crashes in Idaho decreased overall by 18 percent after Washington’s legal pot went on sale, and that effect increased as you got close to legal dispensaries. For counties three hours away from Washington, the decrease was only 10 percent, but that drop in crashes increased the closer you got to Washington’s legal weed dispensaries. Counties that directly bordered Washington saw a decrease of 21 percent.
Hansen’s research showed a clear case of people substituting pot for alcohol and then ending up safer because of it, according to USU.
“Dr. Hansen’s research suggests that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes. As marijuana becomes easier for consumers to access, individuals drink less, as seen in fewer alcohol-related car crashes in Idaho,” USU said in a news summary about Hansen’s study.
Hansen points out in his paper that this comes as cops in Idaho aggressively increase the number of people they arrest for smuggling pot into their state. Only 13 people were arrested for pot smuggling in Idaho in 2013, but over 800 were in 2019.
It looks like the cops should be saying thank you to those pot smugglers instead of trying to put them behind bars.