Legalise marijuana to reduce road accidents? From the Institute for the Study of Labour comes this surprising research finding:

In the conclusions of their paper Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities,and Alcohol Consumption, the authors D. Mark Anderson and Daniel I. Rees make this observation:

The negative relationship between legalisation of medical marijuana and traffic fatalities involving alcohol is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes. In order to explore this hypothesis further, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and alcohol consumption using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and The Brewer’s Almanac. We find that the legalisation of medical marijuana is associated with decreased alcohol consumption, especially by 20- through 29-year-olds. In addition, we find that legalisation is associated with decreased beer sales, the most popular alcoholic beverage among young adults.

Evidence from simulator and driving course studies provides a simple explanation for why substituting marijuana for alcohol may lead to fewer traffic fatalities. These studies show that alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of collision. Even at low doses, drivers under the influence of alcohol tend to underestimate the degree to which they are impaired, drive at faster speeds, and take more risks. In contrast, simulator and driving course studies provide only limited evidence that driving under the influence of marijuana leads to an increased risk of collision, perhaps as a result of compensatory driver behavior.

However, because other mechanisms cannot be ruled out, the negative relationship between medical marijuana laws and alcohol-related traffic fatalities does not necessarily imply that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol.

For instance it is possible that legalising medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities though its effect on substance use in public. Alcohol is often consumed in restaurants and bars, while many states prohibit the use of medical marijuana in public. Even where it is not explicitly prohibited, anecdotal evidence suggests that the public use of medical marijuana can be controversial. If marijuana consumption typically takes place at home, then designating a driver for the trip back from a restaurant or bar becomes unnecessary, and legalisation could reduce traffic fatalities even if driving under the influence of marijuana is every bit as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

Don’t let the facts interfere. I find it a bit hard to reconcile these two statements from yesterday.

Richard Deniss, executive director of The Australia Institute: “The tourism industry and retail sector are being hit very hard by the high dollar and, while mining is booming, it doesn’t employ too many people.” (Emphasis added.)

The Australian Bureau of Statistics: Despite a year of global economic challenges and natural disasters, tourism growth was supported by increased consumption by international visitors (up 4.4% over the previous year), largely due to an increase in the number of visitors from overseas (up 3.8%) while average consumption per visitor stayed relatively stable (up 0.6%).

Blame it on the super sized market economy or bacteria in the large intestine. Blaming obesity on the free market is the purpose of research from a University of Michigan academic to be published later this month in the journal Critical Public Health. Roberto De Vogli, associate professor in the U-M School of Public Health believes obesity can be seen as one of the unintended side effects of free market policies.

His study of 26 wealthy nations shows that countries with a higher density of fast food restaurants per capita had much higher obesity rates compared to countries with a lower density of fast food restaurants per capita. “It’s not by chance that countries with the highest obesity rates and fast food restaurants are those in the forefront of market liberalisation, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, versus countries like Japan and Norway, with more regulated and restrictive trade policies,” De Vogli argues.

For example, in the United States, researchers reported 7.52 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people, and in Canada they reported 7.43 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people. The paper reported the obesity rates among US men and women were 31.3 percent and 33.2 percent, respectively. The obesity rates for Canadian men and women were 23.2 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively.

Compare that to Japan, with 0.13 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people, and Norway, with 0.19 restaurants per capita. Obesity rates for men and women in Japan were 2.9 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. In Norway, obesity rates for men and women were 6.4 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. The relationships remain consistent even when researchers controlled for variables such as income, income inequality, urban areas, motor vehicles and internet use per capita.

According to De Vogli, obesity research largely overlooks the global market forces behind the epidemic. “In my opinion the public debate is too much focused on individual genetics and other individual factors, and overlooks the global forces in society that are shaping behaviors worldwide. If you look at trends overtime for obesity, it’s shocking,” De Vogli said in a press statement.

Which probably means he will not think much of research findings published in the American Chemical Society’s  Journal of Proteome Research that suggests bacteria living in people’s large intestine may slow down the activity of the “good” kind of fat tissue, a special fat that quickly burns calories and may help prevent obesity.

Peter Fray

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