Some people in Bryan and College Station firmly believe that marijuana should be legalized. It is not any more destructive than alcohol or tobacco, they say, and can help people cope with pain from debilitating illnesses.

But there may be (notice the "may") another unexpected benefit from legalized marijuana. According to a new study, it could cut down on the number of traffic deaths, especially those related to DUI.

Economists from Montana State University and the University of Colorado found that traffic fatalities in the 13 states that permit legalized marijuana dropped after marijuana stopped being taboo. Traffic fatalities decreased an average of 9 percent in these states.

The researchers say the drop is because once marijuana becomes legal, more people use marijuana instead of alcohol. This swap is especially noticeable in 20-something and 30-something young men and really cuts down on beer consumption at bars. That, in turn, seems to lead to fewer traffic deaths.

Now, that there are fewer traffic deaths is great. And as we have said before, DUIs are a huge hassle and can result in enormous fines and severe legal punishments, so cutting down on DUIs would be good, too.

Then again, it is not as if marijuana is a consequence-free drug. Driving while impaired by marijuana is no joke. (The study authors say that when people use marijuana, they tend to do it at home and no driving is involved.) Lastly, marijuana is often legalized on medicinal grounds and there is no evidence that purely medicinal use of marijuana, as opposed to recreational use, would result in this benefit.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Does medical marijuana mean fewer traffic deaths?" Foon Rhee, Dec. 1, 2011