Next month the Colorado Department of Transportation will kick off a new campaign aimed at warning people against smoking marijuana and driving called “Drive High, Get a DUI.”
CDOT plans to launch the $430,000 media blitz, but the agency acknowledges it will do so without any hard data quantifying the number of people actually getting arrested for driving high.
A CBS4 investigation found no state agency is currently tracking the impact of marijuana on our roads.
“We need more data, and with recreational marijuana just in place, we don’t have enough data to inform on the problem,” said CDOT spokesperson Emily Wilfong. “But impaired driving is a problem in Colorado and it is something that we want to stay ahead of.”
CBS4 requested the number of marijuana driving arrests from 12 Colorado law enforcement agencies. Seven said they don’t keep track and were not able to provide numbers. The way Colorado’s intoxicated driving law is written, drunk and drugged driving are lumped together, making it difficult to separate out and identify the number of marijuana driving cases.
Of the five police agencies that did provide numbers, Denver had arrested 27 people for marijuana DUI, roughly one per week since marijuana was legalized last July. Over the same period, Lakewood reported 12 arrests, while Boulder had seven. Deputies in Jefferson County had two and Fort Collins police arrested just one.
On Oct. 3 Fort Collins police arrested Jeanie Arend for driving high. She was not pulled over, she actually called police to file an assault report after she was punched by a pedestrian while behind the wheel. Arend, who says she is a medical marijuana patient, failed a field sobriety test, and her blood tested at 15 ng/ml, three times the legal limit. She was shocked to hear she was the only arrest in Fort Collins,
“I’m saddened and I sure wish it wasn’t me,” she said.
“It does seem low,” said Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto, who says it is a lot easier to get a drunk driving conviction because officers can use a Breathalyzer instead of a blood test.
“I think it will evolve to the point where we are able to enforce it as readily as we can enforce alcohol now,” he said.
Hutto said police officers have trained for years to catch drunk drivers, but training officers to catch stoned drivers is expensive. This year CDOT is hoping to train more drug recognition experts, but the chances one would be encountered one on the road remains slim.
“It’s not likely because it is less than 1 percent of the law enforcement population,” said Glenn Davis, who oversees the state’s drug recognition training school.
Davis said out of Colorado’s 15,000 law enforcement officers, only 190 are drug recognition experts. Davis wants to see that number increase to 300, making sure every jurisdiction has at least one trained officer.
The new drug enforcement training will coincide with the CDOT “Drive High, Get a DUI” awareness campaign. CDOT says part of its goal is to help people understand the new marijuana laws and the five ng/ml limit. It’s a lesson Arend is still working on.
“If 15 nanograms was what my level was, then five must be one bowl a day? I don’t know. I just don’t have a clue.”
Arend said her biggest fear in sentencing is the possibility a judge might restrict her marijuana use. She calls marijuana her wonder drug which helps her with a number of medical conditions.