As marijuana becomes available for recreational use throughout Colorado, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) remind motorists that it is illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana. Similar to alcohol, there is an established impairment level in Colorado of five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the active psychoactive component of marijuana—per milliliter of whole blood. Driving while impaired by any substance is illegal and unsafe.
“There are some who do not feel that marijuana can impair driving, but it does,” said Darrell Lingk, Director of the Office of Transportation Safety at CDOT. “Marijuana affects reaction time, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, concentration and perception of time and distance. And just like alcohol, people driving while impaired by marijuana can receive a DUI.”
According to the Colorado Judicial Branch, there were 24,742 DUI and DWAI cases filed in 2012 throughout the state of Colorado. Upon a DUI conviction, a person must undergo an alcohol and drug evaluation completed by the probation department within The Colorado Judicial Branch. The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) collects data from the alcohol and drug evaluations which shows that out 23,519 evaluations in 2012, evaluators note that marijuana was involved in 1,045 evaluations.
CDOT has been working alongside the marijuana industry and other state and local agencies for the past six months to develop policies and education efforts to inform marijuana users about the dangers of driving while impaired.
“We’ve had a seat at the table as CDOT and others determine how best to educate the public on safety issues, providing insight into how best to get the message out that impaired driving is illegal and dangerous,” said Mike Elliott, Executive Director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. “CDOT and the industry want to stress the importance of using this newly legalized drug in a safe manner.”
“We’re trying to gather as many facts as possible about marijuana impaired driving to give us a baseline on the current situation in Colorado to better inform and educate the public on this issue,” said Amy Ford, Director of Communications at CDOT. “Recreational marijuana is a new liberty afforded to Coloradans 21 years old and older, and we urge people to be responsible by not driving impaired.”
Colorado law enforcement officers are trained in the detection of impairment of alcohol and drugs; and many are specially trained Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). Colorado’s Express Consent Law requires any driver to consent to a chemical test if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person is driving under the influence or their ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired because of alcohol, drugs or both. Any driver who refuses to take a chemical test will immediately lose their driver’s license and will be classified a persistent drink driver. Consequences of refusal include one year driving license revocation and mandatory ignition interlock for two years and alcohol education and therapy classes as specified by law.
In addition to driving impaired, it is also illegal to consume or display marijuana on any public roadway, to have marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle in an open container, container with a broken seal, or if there is evidence marijuana has been consumed. These laws are in place to ensure the safety of all users of Colorado roadways.
“From the perspective of law enforcement, the legalization of recreational marijuana hasn’t changed the DUI law. If you drive high, you will get a DUI,” said Colonel Scott Hernandez, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Officers are trained to detect impairment of all substances—including marijuana.”
The Heat Is On campaign, which includes both alcohol and drug-impaired driving, runs throughout the year with 12 specific DUI enforcement periods centered on national holidays and large public events. More details about the campaign, including DUI enforcement plans, arrest totals and safety tips, can be found at HeatIsOnColorado.com.