When it comes to the debate over whether to legalize marijuana, one of the heaviest arguments thrown around by opposing forces is that providing a legal framework for people to buy weed without the fear of jail will undoubtedly lead to an uprising of stoned motorists that threaten the safety of civil society.
However, some of the latest roadway statistics from Colorado, where pot has been fully legal for two years, indicate that high drivers are not as problematic as law enforcement agencies across the nation would like the public to believe.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the issue of stoned driving has in no way spiraled out of control since statewide marijuana sales began back in 2014. In fact, it is on a slight decline.
Last year, state troopers wrote 4,546 citations to motorists for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Of those offenders, only 347 of them were busted for operating a motor vehicle ripped up on marijuana—around seven less than 2014.
The report does show that 665 citations were issued in 2015 where marijuana was “suspected” to be a part of a motorist’s inebriation cocktail. Yet, even this number dropped from 2014, where 674 drivers were believed to have smoked weed in addition to using alcohol or a variety of other substances.
Overall, the latest data represents a 1.3 percent decrease in people driving around the streets of Colorado with a buzz.
Although the numbers may not seem very impressive at face value, they do provide us with an important detail to put in our arsenal of activism—putting an end to prohibition and allowing marijuana to be taxed and regulated in a manner similar to beer does not appear to create any more chaos or lawlessness on the roadways. It seems that most people are using cannabis products responsibly, and the ones who aren’t were almost inevitably going to go against the grain of public sobriety laws regardless if they purchased weed from a dispensary or the black market.
Not surprisingly, Colorado law enforcement does not believe the latest figures paint an accurate portrait of the state’s stoned driving issue. Some are convinced it will take several more years before they really understand how legal marijuana is affecting the highways.
“From those numbers, we know very little. They were released to provide insight,” CSP Trooper Josh Lewis told the Durango Herald. “We don’t know if we’re going to start seeing an increase or a decrease. When we get two, three, four more years of data, we’ll find those first two years could be very different. We don’t know what way it will be trending.”
It is important to understand that driving high in a legal state, such as Colorado, carries the same types of penalty as operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. But because there is no effective method of testing for pot impairment, people suspected of driving high can easily find themselves suffering from legal woes even if they were not technically intoxicated at the time of the traffic stop.
If law enforcement notices “slow speech, mimicking the effects of marijuana; the smell of it; or if there is visible paraphernalia,” they will request that you submit to a blood test. Deny the test and your driver’s license will be revoked for at least a year. Agree to it, and reveal a positive result for any more than 5 nanongrams of THC, you’ll get nailed with a DUI.