Before retail sales of marijuana begin in Massachusetts, researchers are studying the drug's current effect on public safety.
A team out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences signed a $275,000 contract with the state Department of Public Health to establish baseline data on issues like addiction and youth drug use, said David Buchanan, chair of the school's Department of Health Promotion and Policy.
Research will likely be completed by March, said Buchanan, who's overseeing the study.
This data should help the researchers track how things change after the retail shops open, which could happen as soon as next July, Buchanan said.
Officials in some states that already legalized recreational marijuana -- like Colorado and Washington -- didn't do similar research before, he added.
"You talk to researchers there now, and say, 'Well, have drugged-driving deaths gone up?'" Buchanan said. "They kind of just shrug their shoulders, and say, 'Well, we don't really know for sure.'"
Whether rates of driving under the influence of marijuana will rise after full legalization goes into effect is probably the question that's drawn the most interest, Buchanan said.
As part of their research, UMass professors Rosa Rodríguez-Monguió and Jennifer Whitehill will try to partner with a hospital to track how many drivers involved in accidents test positive for marijuana, Buchanan said.
"Drugged-driving is the no. 1 issue of the day," Buchanan said.