The Impact of Cannabis Decriminalization and Legalization on Road Safety Outcomes: A Systematic Review


Sarah B.Windle MPH, Peter Socha BS, José Ignacio, Nazif-Munoz PhD, Sam Harper PhD, Arijit Nandi PhD


September 2022


There is substantial debate concerning the impact of cannabis decriminalization and legalization on road safety outcomes.

Seven databases were systematically searched: Embase, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO through Ovid as well as Web of Science Core Collection, SafetyLit, Criminal Justice Database (ProQuest), and Transport Research International Documentation (from inception to June 16, 2021). Eligible primary studies examined group-level cannabis decriminalization or legalization and a road safety outcome in any population.

A total of 65 reports of 64 observational studies were eligible, including 39 that applied a quasi-experimental design. Studies examined recreational cannabis legalization (n=50), medical cannabis legalization (n=22), and cannabis decriminalization (n=5). All studies except 1 used data from the U.S. or Canada. Studies found mixed impacts of legalization on attitudes, beliefs, and self-reported driving under the influence. Medical legalization, recreational legalization, and decriminalization were associated with increases in positive cannabis tests among drivers. Few studies examined impacts on alcohol or other drug use, although findings suggested a decrease in positive alcohol tests among drivers associated with medical legalization. Medical legalization was associated with reductions in fatal motor-vehicle collisions, whereas recreational legalization was conversely associated with increases in fatal collisions.

Increased cannabis positivity may reflect changes in cannabis use; however, it does not in itself indicate increased impaired driving. Subgroups impacted by medical and recreational legalization, respectively, likely explain opposing findings for fatal collisions. More research is needed concerning cannabis decriminalization; the impacts of decriminalization and legalization on nonfatal injuries, alcohol and other drugs; and the mechanisms by which legalization impacts road safety outcomes.


DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2022.07.012


Windle, S. B., Socha, P., Nazif-Munoz, J. I., Harper, S., & Nandi, A. (2022). The Impact of Cannabis Decriminalization and Legalization on Road Safety Outcomes: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.