Starting in March, Colorado will launch a federally funded campaign of TV commercials warning about the dangers of stoned driving, reports Monte Whaley for The Denver Post. The ad campaign (which includes posters being given to pot stores) is part of a public safety effort funded by a $400,000 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant. The money will also be used to train more law enforcement officers to recognize people driving under the influence of marijuana, Whaley writes.
Public safety officials are concerned that since the recreational pot in Colorado became legal on January 1, and as the number of stores selling it increases, there will be more people who get too high to drive. Whaley quotes CDOT highway safety manager Glenn Davis: “We may see more customers who used marijuana in the past, or those who have never used it, get behind the wheel.”
In an article appearing on Seattle pi, the Associated Press writes that there was a total of 24,742 arrests for DUI and driving-while-ability-impaired in the state in 2012. Of those, marijuana use was a factor in more than 1,000, according to Colorado highway officials.
Colorado’s newest DUI laws say a person is presumed to be under the influence of marijuana while driving if his or her blood contains 5 nanograms or more of active THC per milliliter of blood, AP writes. (A nanogram is one billionth of a gram, Whaley notes.) However, there is no agreement on exactly how much pot a driver would have to have consumed in order to be considered under the influence, AP writes, because THC is absorbed into the bloodstream differently than alcohol. The degree of influence partly depends on what type of marijuana a person is consuming. Another variable is how a person is consuming it, Whaley writes; it can be smoked, eaten or applied to the skin as a lotion. Moreover, frequent users can build up a THC tolerance.
Part of the enforcement problem stems from the fact that many marijuana users do not believe that pot impairs their driving, Whaley writes. They possesses “outsized confidence” similar to the attitude officers encounter from people stopped for drunk driving, he writes, quoting Davis:
‘Every time I see a news article about marijuana use and driving, I see the same comments from people who are users who think they drive better and not worse after using,’ Davis said. ‘In many ways, it’s a real tough audience to reach and convince them that “No, you don’t drive better, you drive worse.” ‘
Davis told Whaley that he would like to see the state expand its current team of 185 specially trained drug recognition officers to 300. Officials hope the federal funding will cover training for 35 more officers.
Although Colorado has legalized recreational pot use, marijuana is still illegal federally. As this blog has reported, President Obama has said the federal government would not go after Colorado for its legalization law.
Whaley quotes a CDOT spokeswoman:
‘It’s ironic we’re using federal funding for something that is illegal federally,’ Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Emily Wilfong said. ‘But they (federal officials) do realize this is a traffic safety issue and needs to be addressed.’