Of the 115 drivers involved in fatal auto accidents in 2016, 71 had THC in their system, and 63 percent tested over five nanograms per milliliter, Colorado’s legal limit for driving.

Increasing Numbers of Deaths Denote a Disturbing Trend

Some say that our state has had a somewhat relaxed view on marijuana use in the last couple of decades, which may have led to a significant increase in Colorado auto accidents. Let’s begin by taking a look at Colorado’s history with pot:

  • In November 2000, Colorado legalized medical marijuana, allowing qualifying patients or their caregivers to possess up to two ounces and six marijuana plants.
  • In 2010, Colorado legalized marijuana dispensaries.
  • Colorado was one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in 2012.
  • Then in October 2017, Denver passed Initiative 300, which allows for limited public consumption of marijuana within the city limits.
  • Also in 2017, an analysis conducted by the Denver Post found that the number of fatal crashes rose by 40 percent from 2013 to 2016. Of those collisions, alcohol-related crashes increased by 17 percent, while deaths involving drivers high on marijuana rose by an astounding 145 percent, from 47 in 2013 to 115 in 2016.

According to the Post analysis, marijuana is a factor in more fatal collisions overall. Drivers tested positive for marijuana in about 10 percent of all fatal crashes in 2013, but three years later, the number had doubled to 20 percent.

Of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2014, more than half had no alcohol in their system; by 2016, this number had grown to 69 percent. Of the 115 drivers involved in fatal collisions in 2016, 71 had Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system. Of those, 63 percent tested over five nanograms per milliliter, Colorado’s legal limit for driving.

The trend appears to coincide with Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, although state transportation and public safety officials maintain that the increase in marijuana-related driving fatalities cannot be conclusively linked to marijuana legalization.

Marijuana and Driving Impairment

Not many would dispute the statement that marijuana and driving don’t mix, but the effect that marijuana has on driving ability is hard to quantify.

Maximum levels of THC in the blood tend to appear before the driver is impaired, but as THC levels fall, impairment increases. Blood tests detect traces of THC a day after the drug is consumed although experts believe that the greatest degree of driving impairment connected with marijuana disappears in a little over three hours.

According to drugabuse.gov, multiple studies have found that the risk of being involved in an auto accident significantly increases after marijuana use – in some cases more than doubling. However, a large study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no substantial increase in collisions that could be attributed to cannabis use.

In 2017, all the drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents that tested positive for marijuana use had the drug at levels that indicated use within a few hours of being tested, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

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