Federal grant funds Colorado effort to fight driving while high on marijuana

Associated Press Updated: January 13, 2014 at 7:04 pm • Published: January 13, 2014 0

DENVER — Colorado plans to advertise the dangers of stoned driving and train more police officers in spotting drivers impaired by marijuana with a new $400,000 federal grant.

"It's ironic we're using federal funding for something that is illegal federally," Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Emily Wilfong said. "But they (federal officials) do realize this is a traffic-safety issue and needs to be addressed."

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and stoned-driving arrests have gone up. State highway officials say marijuana use was a factor in more than 1,000 driving-under-the-influence cases filed in 2012. There were 24,742 total DUI and driving-while-ability-impaired cases filed in Colorado that year.

Retail sales of recreational pot started Jan. 1.

Owners of medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational pot shops and users who want to keep pot consumption safe are helping develop the campaign by participating in focus groups, Wilfong said.

Colorado received the grant for the campaign from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Denver Post reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1d0OdnZ ).

"CDOT and the industry want to stress the importance of using this newly legalized drug in a safe manner," Medical Marijuana Industry Group executive director Mike Elliott said.

Public safety officials are worried that as the number of recreational pot shops increases, so will the number of people who get too high to drive.

"We may see more customers who used marijuana in the past, or those who have never used it, get behind the wheel," CDOT highway safety manager Glenn Davis said.

Currently, there are 185 specially trained drug-recognition experts spread among Colorado law enforcement agencies. Officials hope the new federal funding will cover training for 35 more officers.

People convicted of DUI must submit to alcohol and drug evaluation by the state probation department. Data collected by the state showed marijuana in 1,045 of 23,519 evaluations.

Under Colorado's newest DUI laws, a motorist is presumed to be under the influence of marijuana if the driver's blood contained 5 nanograms or more of active THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) per milliliter of blood at the time of driving.

But there is no consensus on the exact amount of pot a driver must consume before he or she is considered under the influence. That's because THC is absorbed differently into the bloodstream than alcohol.

"Are you under the influence from one bong hit or a cigarette? It really depends on the strain of marijuana you use and the concentration of the strain," Glenwood Springs attorney Kip O'Connor said. "But when you drink a bottle of beer or a shot of whiskey, you have a pretty good idea of the dosage."

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