Federal law enforcement funds DUI crackdowns across the nation between mid-August and Labor Day weekend. What the available statistics from those crackdowns show is that the mayhem on freeways predicted by opponents of legalization did not seem to come to fruition in the two states that legalized pot.
It is difficult to pin down marijuana’s exact value in DUI stops and statistics. Some counties and agencies don’t break their data down by “alcohol DUI” and “marijuana DUI.” Even for those that do, if someone is suspected of drinking and toking, police will often order the cheaper alcohol breath test over the more expensive marijuana blood test. But if legal marijuana has caused a highway Armageddon, the statistics aren’t showing it.
In Washington State, Kitsap County, due west of Seattle and including the city of Bremerton, just 47 people were pulled over for impaired (on anything) driving, when 71 had been pulled over the year prior. In King County, which includes Seattle, impaired driving stops dropped from 374 last year to 292: that DUI crackdown began on the weekend of the first Seattle Hempfest.
Washington State Patrol notes that a greater number of their blood tests are coming back positive for marijuana, but as that has happened, impaired driving stops have remained constant and driving fatalities have declined. Now that there is a five-nanogram THC impairment standard in Washington law, it may just be that cops are more likely to order a blood test for a suspected toker than they were before. Notably, the percentage of those blood tests that are coming back over the five -nanogram limit has declined since last year, perhaps as tokers fear possible DUI charges and wait longer before driving.
In Colorado, some counties did break down their data by impairing substance; In Jefferson County, there six DUI arrests in the crackdown; one was for marijuana. In Arapahoe County, out of 17 DUI arrests, there were two for marijuana; In Adams County, just one out of 38 DUI arrests were for marijuana; The city of Aurora reported 141 DUI arrests with just eight of those for marijuana; The city of Denver reported 157 DUI arrests and only one was for marijuana. For those jurisdictions, that makes 13 out of 359 impaired driving arrests that were for marijuana.
Colorado’s anti-drug crusaders have pointed to increases in highway fatalities testing positive for marijuana. Colorado’s Department of Transportation shows 27 fatal crashes for marijuana drivers in 2006 compared to 35 fatal crashes in 2012. But a “marijuana driver” in these cases is someone who tests positive for marijuana metabolites, not active THC, in their system. All we know is that there are more people who died in crashes who had smoked pot sometime within a week or so, not that they were actively stoned at the time. Besides, in 2006 there were 535 fatal accidents in Colorado, while in 2012 there were 472. Where is this roadway apocalypse the pot-haters predicted?