Would legal marijuana mean higher auto insurance rates in NJ?
New Jersey's governor-elect has pledged to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in the Garden State within 100 days of taking office.
If Democrat Phil Murphy follows through — which requires the help of the state legislature — New Jersey drivers could expect to see a hike in their auto insurance rates down the line, if other states with legal pot are any indication.
"We are seeing rates go up, and one cause of rates climbing in these states is the presence of recreational marijuana," James Lynch, chief actuary for the Insurance Information Institute, told Townsquare Media New Jersey News.
An analysis released in June by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington resulted in a rate of collision claims that's about 3 percent higher than would have been expected without the updated laws.
The Institute examined claims in the three states and neighboring states between January 2012 and October 2016. Retail pot sales began in January 2014 in Colorado, in July 2014 in Washington, and in October 2015 in Oregon.
"If it were to happen in New Jersey the way that it's happened in these states — and I can't see any reason why it would be different — it could actually be a lot worse because we have more cars per square mile," Lynch said.
At $1,375, New Jersey's average auto insurance premium ranks as the 14th-highest among the states, according to a July report from Insure.com. The national average is $1,318.
Christine O'Brien, president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey, said insurers in the Garden State are monitoring the trends in states that have already legalized marijuana for recreational use. Rate hikes would not occur in anticipation of increased crashes and claims, however.
"As of right now, we really would wait to see how it would play out in terms of crashes, and the frequency and the severity of those crashes, before we would consider the legalization of marijuana as having an effect on premiums," O'Brien said.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.