If a police officer catches you driving while high from marijuana in Colorado, you face the same charges as a drunk driver – a DUI. This is a problem for lawmakers, the public, and law enforcement officials looking to Colorado as a social, legal, and economic experiment on the effects of marijuana legalization.
Why? Because the data from police departments doesn’t distinguish between the two types of impaired driving, so the number of marijuana related arrests is lumped with the total number of DUIs in the state.
State Rep. Jon Keyser, R-Morrison is proposing a bill to fix this problem. He’s looking to track the data of the effects of legalization in Colorado, specifically the effect on highway and road safety. In an interview with The Colorado Springs Gazette, Keyser said, “We want to be able to pinpoint what public safety issues are out there related to impaired driving and whether that’s alcohol, prescription pills or marijuana, or some combination of all those things.”
He said his intent was to provide specific data to the public. “If this is a problem we definitely need to address it, but right now we can’t even say if it’s a problem.” Alongside Democratic legislator Jonathan Singer, he is pushing for a law that will create a separate charge for drivers under the influence of drugs. The bill attempting to address this issue will appear in the 2016 legislative session, beginning in January.
Laws Defining Allowable Marijuana Blood Content Not Enough
Legal limits for marijuana blood content while driving have been recently added to the law books, and the Colorado State Patrol began collecting data on marijuana-related driving violations in January 2014. But there is very limited data predating legalization to compare with the new data. The numbers that do exist show arrests for marijuana-related driving offenses have kept at a steady rate over the past two years, and that 13% of DUIs issued in Colorado during the past 18 months involved marijuana. Unfortunately, these statistics alone cannot tell lawmakers and officers very much.
In the past, the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission has also pushed for a bill to distinguish drugged drivers. Parties on both sides of the legalization debate want the information. Opponents of recreational weed feared a flush of intoxicated drivers causing accidents on Colorado’s freeway, but there’s no way to tell from current data whether those fears are founded. When accidents do occur, the public and legislators are interested to know whether marijuana was a contributing factor.
Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado district attorneys’ council, also is interested in obtaining statistics for drugged driving arrests. He has expressed concern, however, about special regulations for high drivers. “It’s something that I think needs to be done cautiously,” Raynes said. “You don’t want to build in an inherent defense if an officer on the street has to make a decision at that very moment – is this person impaired by alcohol or marijuana?”
For the time being, however, marijuana-impaired drivers face the same penalties as drunk drivers in Colorado. A DUI arrest is not the same as a conviction, however. If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence, you have the ability to fight the charge. DUI arrests are often the result of the subjective judgement of the officer and unreliable testing methods. Consulting with an experienced Colorado DUI attorney can help ensure the best possible outcome for your specific case.
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.