Up in Smoke?

For almost 20 years, in my other life, I’ve worked with companies that sell software and services to insurance companies. As a result, it behooves me to stay abreast of developments in the insurance industry. So it is that I found the findings of a study, published by the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA — no, not that CIA) and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) last December, under the headline, “Marijuana Decriminalization Not Associated With Notable Increase in Traffic Accidents”. The report said this, in part:

The study did not detect any statistically significant impacts [we have to presume that wasn’t a pun or at least not a deliberate one] of decriminalization on the car accident fatality rate, insurance claim frequency or average cost per claim, particularly over the long term. Assessing the Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization on Vehicle Accident Experience finds, based on insurance statistics, that there were no significant changes to the trend and seasonal variations in Canadian traffic accidents after the change in legal status. Similarly, the estimated state-wide effects of decriminalization in the US do not show any consistent, significant results that would support a conclusion that decriminalization led to an increase in road accidents or fatalities.

That may be true … unless it isn’t. Either way, I don’t know if you read the same way I do. But the three phrases that jumped out at me were these: statistically significant, fatality rate, and over the long term. Here’s why:

First, how is statistically significant being defined here? How many accidents were there before decriminalization? Are there more now? How many? What’s the difference between the number of accidents and the number of fatalities? If the number of fatalities was higher after decriminalization, how many more fatalities would have been required to consider them statistically significant? Is there an agenda here? What is it? Whose interests does it serve? (Hint: Follow the money.)

Second, recreational marijuana was decriminalized in Washington and Colorado in 2012. Since then, according to this article, 19 more states decriminalized it, as did Connecticut after that article was published. The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, prohibiting the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws, became law in December of 2014. So, we have, at most, 11 years’ worth of data by which to judge the effects of cannabis on the incidence of traffic fatalities. Given the paces of change in science and technology, I’m not convinced that constitutes the long term. Are you?

Hedge Your Bets

I’m know I’m not a sadist. And I don’t think I’m an idiot. So, I don’t want to be misunderstood on this topic. Prescribing medical cannabis for the treatment of pain and other symptoms to those suffering from chronic disease is compassionate and commendable. But with the hounds of recreational marijuana now unleashed, it’s naïve to imagine there won’t be more serious implications — more errant stoners on the road and an incrementally higher number of fatal accidents — the more time passes.

Among the reasons to suspect both of those things are likely to come true are these, from the American Addiction Centers at

There is a link between long-term marijuana use and increased rates of schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. Marijuana also increases a person’s heart rate for up to three hours after use, putting users at risk of heart attacks during this period … THC rapidly moves from the lungs into the blood. This chemical acts on cannabinoid receptors, leading to a “high” for users. These receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence concentration, thinking, sensory and time perception, pleasure, memory, and coordination … When a person is high on marijuana, the side effects include temporary memory loss, lack of coordination, altered perception of time, changes in mood, difficulties thinking or problem-solving.

Does this necessarily mean there will be a greater incidence of cannabis-related traffic fatalities? No. Would you bet against it? Neither would I.

If I were an insurer, I’d be keeping my eyes on the research … and on the road.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. I appreciate your perception and sharing these facts. My heart breaks a little bit more everytime another state legalizes marijuana. We have a big enough circus in the roads already with alcohol abuse. But getting back to your exact quotes. Let me tell you. Those adjectives “statistically” “significant’ and adjectives that describe measurements or effects are worthless as far as truthtellers.

    • Jane, perverse as it is, I can almost understand the logic of legalizing weed and every other manifestation of pandering to special interest groups to buy votes. What I can’t understand is what the people who get elected by doing that think their constituents are going to be intellectually and emotionally capable of. I hope things don’t much worse before they get better.

      Thank you for joining the conversation.