The number of citations for driving while under the influence of marijuana dropped by 33.2 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the same period last year, but the number of people using marijuana and then driving continues to be a concern for Colorado officials.
“We’re still troubled by the fact that marijuana users are still telling us they routinely drive high,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Sam Cole said Monday. “We’re pleased with the awareness, but we’re not so pleased with the behaviors that are actually happening.”
Cole said that in a survey conducted by CDOT, 55 percent of marijuana users said they believed it was safe to drive while under the influence. So three years ago when recreational marijuana was legalized, according to Cole, CDOT launched the “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign to raise awareness that driving while stoned was illegal.
“There’s a lot of troubling information we’ve collected and many marijuana users indicate they drive high and they don’t think it’s a danger,” Cole said. He added that among survey respondents who said they used marijuana within the last 30 days, “Fifty percent of marijuana users say they have driven high.”
Despite CDOT’s concerns and what marijuana users might think, the Colorado State Patrol reported that from January to March of 2017, 155 people were cited for marijuana-use-only impairment while driving, compared to 232 cited from January to March of 2016. The number of citations noting combined alcohol and marijuana use also declined, with 50 in the first quarter of 2017 compared with 69 in the first three months of 2016.
“Are the citations going down? Yeah, but is the number of people using marijuana and then driving going down? I don’t know how to quantify that,” said Nate Reid , a CSP spokesman. “This is just after the officer stop. This isn’t post-conviction or after they may have been arrested.”
Recreational marijuana use might be somewhat new, but troopers have great experience detecting impaired drivers, Reid said.
“We’ve been arresting for marijuana for a long time,” he said. “There’s no sure sign somebody is impaired by alcohol or drugs. It’s the trooper’s personal contact after a stop, along with their driving behavior. Troopers have been trained in advance for detecting alcohol and marijuana and other prescription drugs.”
During the month of March in 2016, marijuana-related citations made up 17.8 percent of 337 total DUIs. In March 2017, marijuana-related citations made up 16.4 percent of 396 total DUIs. There was a year-over-year decrease from seven to three fatal alcohol- and drug-related crashes in the same span.
With 4/20 just around the corner and thousands of marijuana users planning to commemorate the day in downtown Denver, CDOT, CSP and other organizations are encouraging people to have a fun, but safe celebration.
“Take the high road this 4/20, and don’t DUI!” a release from CSP said. “The Colorado State Patrol will be in full force this 4/20 week encouraging the public to get a safe ride home and not drive impaired.”
CDOT has partnered with ride share companies to offer discounted rides on Thursday and started the “320 Movement” with Lyft, where a fleet of 17 vehicles were wrapped in green “Plan a ride before you’re high” messaging. The goal is to encourage marijuana users to plan ahead for a safe and sober ride leading up to 4/20.
“We have a lot of opportunities this week and the next four days to introduce behavior changes to marijuana users during 4/20 so they can get in the habit of planning for a safe ride home,” Cole said. “We want 3/20 to be as synonymous with safety as 4/20 is with having a good time.”
Hayley Sanchez covers the city and metro area for The Denver Post. After tracking homicides in Washington, D.C., for D.C. Witness, she was a reporter for The Bulletin in Bend, Ore., covering Central Oregon’s breaking news, education, marijuana and more.