When I-502 passed and legal cannabis rolled out in Washington, the alarmists had many concerns. Will kids start smoking more weed? Are stoned drivers going to terrorize Washington roadways? Will weed-crazed mobs run the streets and force innocent old ladies just trying to grocery shop to get high?!

Ok, the last one isn’t real. But the cannabis prohibitionists did have many ideas about what could go wrong. It turns out many of their fears have been unfounded. More surprising is that legal cannabis in Washington has coincided with fewer drunk driving incidents in Idaho. Additionally, cannabis use has surpassed nicotine use in Washington. 

Washington Cannabis Legalization Reduced Drunk Driving in Idaho

A recently released study titled “Are Alcohol and Marijuana Substitutes?” examines the decrease in drunk driving accidents in Idaho following legal cannabis in its border state, Washington.

The study found some surprising stats:

  • In Idaho counties directly bordering Washington, car crashes involving alcohol were reduced by 21% following I-502.
  • Counties in Idaho one hour away from Washington, car crashes involving alcohol were reduced by 18% following I-502.
  • In Idaho counties three hours away from Washington, car crashes involving alcohol were reduced by 10% following I-502.

These findings led the study’s author Dr. Benjamin Hansen to conclude that cannabis is a replacement for alcohol, and with easier access to cannabis, fewer people drink and drive. 

The Sesh reached out to Dr. Hansen and inquired about his reasons for choosing this topic of study.

“Many people concerned about marijuana legalization point at the harms of alcohol and state we don’t need another one,” Dr. Hansen explained. “ I agree with the short take. In economics though, we think about the interrelationship between goods, be they illicit drugs of legal ones. Marijuana legalization, even if alcohol and marijuana are equally harmful, may not worsen outcomes if people substitute spending money on marijuana for spending money on alcohol.”

Dr. Hansen also has a personal interest in reducing impaired driving.

“Personally, I had a family member and a close family friend killed by impaired drivers,” Dr. Hansen recounts. “One drunk and one high. So I have seen the lasting consequences of impaired driving at a personal level which has made me interested in understanding what policies could work to reduce impaired driving and which ones won’t.”

More Pot Smokers Than Nicotine Users in Seattle

In another interesting twist on traditional vices, Nielsen, the marketing research firm that studies TV ratings among other things, recently released survey results regarding cannabis and nicotine use in metro areas around the U.S. 

The survey results revealed that more people in the Seattle-Tacoma area consume cannabis than nicotine products. Nicotine products include cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and all other nicotine delivery products. 

Of the 700,000 adults over the age of 18 surveyed, 17% of them had used cannabis in the last 30 days, and only 16% had used nicotine products. 

Only two other cities in the U.S. had more cannabis use than nicotine use. The cities were–wait for it–Portland and San Francisco. In terms of rates of cannabis consumption, Seattle comes in fourth out of 70 metro areas following Portland, Las Vegas, and Denver. 

Nielsen also revealed some surprising stats about cannabis users versus nicotine users. 

Survey respondents in the Seattle area who’d consumed cannabis in the last 30 days had a median household income of approximately $78,000, compared to $67,000 for e-cigarettes, and $59,000 for cigarette smokers. 

Cannabis users are also more likely to be college-educated than nicotine users, with 32% of cannabis-consuming respondents obtaining a college degree or higher, compared to 20% of tobacco users, and 17% of e-cigarette consumers. 

According to the CDC, in the Western Census region, approximately 17.6% of adults used nicotine products in 2013-2014.

Is Cannabis Replacing Traditional Vices?

While neither study confirms that cannabis is replacing alcohol or tobacco use, taken together they do point to an interesting trend. Having access to a subjectively less harmful substance like legal cannabis may offer those looking to get intoxicated a third option. 

Cannabis replacing alcohol and tobacco as a choice for consumers wasn’t something folks on either side of the debate considered when recreational cannabis legalization was up for a vote. It may serve as an interesting argument for those looking to end cannabis prohibition moving forward.