Smoking marijuana, driving can lead to DUI

Staff report

State officials are reminding the public that just because marijuana is now legal, driving under its influence is decidedly illegal.

"From the perspective of law enforcement, the legalization of recreational marijuana hasn't changed the DUI law. If you drive high, you will get a DUI," said Col. Scott Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. "Officers are trained to detect impairment of all substances, including marijuana."

All police officers are trained to detect when someone is drunk or high, and many are specially trained drug-recognition experts.

Littleton Police Cmdr. Trent Cooper says nothing will change for local departments.

"Amendment 64 doesn't change anything for us, currently, in terms of enforcement of DUID," he said. "Basically, an officer would have to suspect impairment, then conduct the standard DUID investigation."

Colorado requires all drivers to consent to a chemical test if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe they are driving under the influence. Consequences of refusing the test include the immediate suspension of your driver's license for a year, classification as a "persistent drunk driver," mandatory ignition interlock for two years and alcohol education and therapy classes as specified by law.

It's also illegal to consume or display marijuana on any public roadway or to have it in an open container in your car, as with alcohol.

The state has established the legal limit for THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, at five nanograms per milliliter of blood.

"There are some who do not feel that marijuana can impair driving, but it does," said Darrell Lingk, director of CDOT's Office of Transportation Safety. "Marijuana affects reaction time, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, concentration and perception of time and distance."

According to the Colorado Judicial Branch, there were 24,742 DUI and DWAI cases filed in 2012 throughout the state of Colorado. If convicted, the offender is required to undergo an alcohol and drug evaluation. Out of 23,519 evaluations in 2012, marijuana was involved in 1,045.

"We're trying to gather as many facts as possible about marijuana-impaired driving to give us a baseline on the current situation in Colorado to better inform and educate the public on this issue," said Amy Ford, director of communications at CDOT. "Recreational marijuana is a new liberty afforded to Coloradans 21 years old and older, and we urge people to be responsible by not driving impaired."

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