Since legalizing recreational marijuana, Colorado policymakers have been focusing on some of the implications of this policy, including the potential for stoned driving. While some recreational users insist that weed doesn’t impair their ability to drive, lawmakers consider driving under the influence of marijuana to be the same as driving under the influence of any other prescription painkiller—since you can’t judge your own level of impairment, you shouldn’t get behind the wheel.
There’s been a lot of debate about how to measure impairment with marijuana, but Colorado has set the legal limit for driving at 5 nanograms of active THC in the bloodstream. Law enforcement officers can also make arrests based off observed impairment, such as weaving in and out of a lane or failing to observe traffic signals. Essentially, the message boils down to “Don’t drive if you’ve smoked or consumed any amount of weed.”
To help keep people off the roads after using marijuana, our state rolled out the easy-to-remember “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign to remind Coloradoans that, even though marijuana is a legal substance, it’s still illegal to operate a motor vehicle under its influence. The campaign uses a light, humorous tone, in an attempt to connect with its target audience; the short TV spots include a scene of a recreational user concentrating hard on dribbling a basketball with the message “Playing ball while high is now legal… Driving to see the pros afterwards isn’t.”
However, these soft-sell PSAs are paired with a series of graphics that provide readers with more in-depth information about marijuana and driving laws in Colorado. The marketing team behind these two very different approaches said that they came up with the two campaigns based on feedback from focus groups.
Rate of Marijuana DUI Arrests Remains Low
Although it’s hard to say whether it’s due to the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns or just the personal responsibility marijuana users are now taking, so far the rate of marijuana DUIs has been drastically lower than the rate of alcohol DUIs. Police at a traffic checkpoint in Larimer County recently reported that in one night, they contacted 1,572 vehicles and made 22 arrests—21 of which were related to alcohol, and 1 of which was related to marijuana possession (but not driving under the influence).
This data from Larimer County obviously can’t be extrapolated for the whole state, but it does point to a trend that we should examine more broadly: anecdotally, driving under the influence of marijuana is a much less pervasive problem than driving under the influence of alcohol. While it’s clear that drinking and driving is still a major issue that our state needs to focus on, it’s heartening that the recreational marijuana community has been proving that they can use this legal drug without abusing the law.
Of course, since legalized marijuana is still in its infancy, we can expect to continue seeing police looking for reasons to search the vehicles of drivers whom they suspect are under the influence of drugs. If you’re a recreational user, keep in mind that open container laws make it illegal to have marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia sitting out in the passenger area of your car. If you are charged with any cannabis-related misdemeanors or felonies while driving, contact a Denver drug crimes attorney as soon as possible in order to give yourself the best chance of getting the charges dropped.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.