DENVER - In the first year marijuana was available at retail stores in Colorado, 94 people died in crashes where a driver involved tested positive for some amount of marijuana, according to the third-annual marijuana legalization impact study released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
That's up from 71 in 2013, 78 in 2012 and 66 in 2011, the federal agency tasked with monitoring drug activity in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming found.
Tom Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain HIDTA, said those numbers were collected from coroners, police and sheriffs across the state.
"In 2009 when medical marijuana took effect, about 10 percent of all our traffic fatalities were marijuana related," Gorman said. "Now it's 19 percent. You'd have to be in total denial to say this is not related to legalizing marijuana. More people are going to use marijuana, and because of that you're going to have an upward trend in all these areas."
In Colorado, driving under the influence of marijuana is the same crime as driving drunk, and a driver whose blood contains 5 nanograms of the psychoactive drug THC is considered impaired. The data Gorman used was testing for anything above 1 nanogram of THC in 2014 and anything above 2 nanograms of THC in 2013 and 2012. The report notes the change captured overall screenings (not just fatalities), an increase of about 18 percent of cases that otherwise would not have registered.
Mason Tvert with the Marijuana Policy Project, the group that helped legalize marijuana in Colorado, said the report was "disingenuous and poorly researched."
"If this were a government report on any other issue it would probably spark and investigation into the competency and the political motivation of the agency that produced it," Tvert said.
He noted with regard to the fatalities that other state agencies have said one year of data is too little to draw conclusions on, and other drugs and alcohol are often involved in these fatalities.
About 33 percent of the fatalities in the HIDTA report involved only marijuana.
The report also found:
- an increase in marijuana related hospitalizations and emergency room visits
- an increase in marijuana related calls to poison control
- an increase in marijuana that is leaving Colorado for other states