In 2012, Colorado voters overwhelming approved a change to the country’s constitution that allowed the sale and private usage of marijuana for recreational use. Sales began in 2014. Since then, the state has issued over 2,900 marijuana business licenses, 481 of that went to retail dispensaries. Because of this, as one media outlet pointed out, Colorado has more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks, McDonald’s, and 7-Eleven locations combined.
But even though it is legal to swallow, it remains illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. Tragically, far too many drivers appear to be ignoring that and are putting lives in danger by smoking and driving. If you’ve been injured in a car accident because of an impaired driver, a personal injury lawyer can help.
Fatal Accidents Increasing
According to investigation by The Denver Post, the amount of drivers involved in fatal car accidents who then tested positive for marijuana has jumped annually since legalization. Higher levels of the drug are also emerging in drivers who tested positive. Last year, in one extreme example, one driver tested at 22 times the legal limit for marijuana.
From 2013-16, Colorado experienced a 40 percent spike in the number of traffic deaths overall, hitting 880 final year, according to numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The data also reveals that alcohol-related fatalities have been on the increase, climbing 17 percent. The amount of drivers who tested positive for marijuana, however, jumped nearly 150 percent, and now make up 10 percent of all fatal automobile accidents.
While officials are quick to point out that this dramatic increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths can not be tied conclusively to legalization, the numbers are disturbing.
“Unlike alcohol, THC [the active ingredient in marijuana] can stay detectable in the blood stream for days or weeks, when any impairment wears off in a matter of hours,” Taylor West, former deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told The Denver Post. “So all those numbers really tell us is that, since legal adult-use sales began, a larger number of people are consuming cannabis and then, at some stage… driving a car.”
Testing is a Problem
That’s the issue facing state and local governments. Cannabis use is skyrocketing, but law enforcement officials are still struggling to discover a way to definitively test drivers. There’s no bud breathalyzer or blood test that authorities can use to test drivers. There are tests that check for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, but there is not a universally accepted standard that indicates who’s actually impaired, despite the frantic efforts of scientists to establish one.
Colorado uses a THC blood test that authorities can use to reveal what’s referred to as”presumed” impairment. Permissible inference is set at five nanograms of THC per milliliter. Alcohol breaks down quickly in the body, making it easy to test for. THC, on the other hand, can linger much longer in the body. In fact, heavy users who subsequently abstain from marijuana can still test positive a month or more later.
At least two private companies are researching breath detection apparatus, but scientists estimate they are months or years away from hitting the market. As a result, Colorado has begun training its officers in what to look for during traffic stops when deciding if a driver is impaired.