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New marijuana study draws contrasting views on legalization in Arizona

(KTAR File Photo)

Drivers using marijuana in the state of Washington have been involved in more fatal crashes since the drug’s legalization in late 2012.

According to a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, fatal crashes involving drivers who had a detectable concentration of THC, the chemical that can impair pot users, more than doubled from 49 in 2013 to 106 in 2014.

In his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery cited numbers from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Colorado is another state that legalized recreational pot.

“(The) number of drivers who tested positive for cannabis in fatal crashes from 2012 to 2014, the numbers went from 36 to 84,” Montgomery said.

He said the numbers from both Washington and Colorado are concerning.

“I think here in Arizona, if we saw greater availability, we necessarily would see greater use and we would see a corresponding increase in consequences,” Montgomery said.

He said if recreational pot makes the ballot in Arizona, voters need to weigh the revenue benefits against public safety consequences.

JP Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, said the Washington state Triple-A report needs to be put in context. He said that drivers who tested positive for marijuana may not have actually been impaired or actually at fault in those accidents.

“When we look at this in context, we’re seeing a lot of reefer madness come back out on this,” Holyoak said.

He does not believe that we’ll see increased consequences on the road if recreational pot is legalized in Arizona.

“The idea that we’re going to see an increase of this, because suddenly people are going to start consuming marijuana that weren’t previously, is patently absurd,” Holyoak said.

He said marijuana is already available to anyone that really wants it and some users may be getting on the roads. He said education is important to keeping impaired drivers off the road.

“Driving impaired under any substance, even if it is legal, is not OK, and that still constitutes impaired driving,” Holyoak said.

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