Drive High, Maybe Get a DUI?
In 2013, Colorado adopted its 64th state amendment, legalizing the medicinal, industrial, and recreational use of marijuana. The decision has led to increased tax and fee revenue for the state—over $135 million in 2015. While there are pros and cons to the new legislation, one thing is proving difficult for both police officers and Colorado residents: determining who is driving under the influence of marijuana.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s website, if you drive under the influence of any drug—including legal drugs like marijuana—you can be arrested for a DUI. Marijuana can slow down your reaction time and impair hand-eye coordination; these symptoms of marijuana use can be dangerous if you decide to get behind the wheel.
However, as Colorado’s police officers and law enforcement personnel have adapted to the new legislation, there have been some issues. Marijuana is difficult to detect in a person’s system, which has hampered police officers’ ability to tell if a person has been using the drug.
THC, the mind-altering compound in marijuana, is a poor indicator of intoxication. THC is fat-soluble, meaning that it’s stored in your fat unlike alcohol, which is water-based. And because Colorado uses a similar test for marijuana intoxication as it does for alcohol intoxication—the legal limit is five nanograms of THC for each milliliter of blood.
As with alcohol, marijuana users tend to build up a tolerance. But unlike alcohol, it can sometimes take weeks to leave your system. Heavy marijuana users build up more THC in their systems, which could create a false positive in marijuana intoxication tests. Occasional users’ systems could be THC-free in a matter of hours.
Even if intoxication tests aren’t entirely accurate, Colorado has found a way around the issue. According to CDOT’s website, police officers are “trained in the detection of impairment caused by drugs.” Law enforcement officers can also make arrests based on “observed impairment,” such as how drivers respond to questions or if they detect any marijuana smell. Because these tests can be so subjective, experts are working on finding a more effective marijuana intoxication test.
While there is much debate about the dangers of driving while high, CDOT reported that in 2015, there were 68 fatalities where the driver tested positive for cannabis only. This number may seem small compared to the over 150 people killed in alcohol-related car accidents in Colorado each year—but that doesn’t necessarily mean driving while high is safer.
Because legalized marijuana and cannabis is still relatively new for Colorado, there is no certainty with regard to its effects on driving. However, Colorado is doing all it can to educate drivers and marijuana users alike, encouraging them to light up at home rather than on the road. CDOT developed an awareness program (even before marijuana was legalized) for cannabis-impaired driving, using thought-provoking posters and radio and TV ads to drive the message home.
If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident with an impaired driver, contact a ‘knowledgeable Colorado DUI accident lawyer who can help you understand your rights and get you the justice you deserve.
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