MARIJUANA GROW

Medical marijuana plants grow at Rocky Mountain Miracles Friday, April 4, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

In an effort to provide some context to the debate about whether roads are more dangerous since the legalization of marijuana, Colorado State Patrol said in a report Thursday that the number of citations issued for impaired driving with the drug fell slightly since the agency started tracking the numbers two years ago.

In 2015, troopers handed out 4,546 citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, with 347 of them - or 7.6 percent - involving only marijuana. The latter number equates to seven tickets fewer than in 2014.

In 2015, marijuana was suspected as one of the intoxicants in 665 citations, compared to 674 the year before.

The State Patrol released its first yearlong numbers on stoned driving in 2014 and reported that 5,546 drug- and alcohol-related citations were given. That total dropped by 1.3 percent in 2015.

Col. Scott Hernandez ordered State Patrol to begin tracking marijuana-related citations in January 2014, when recreational marijuana legally went on sale. In a statement, he said last year's numbers reflect the agency's efforts "to ensure safe travel throughout the state."

Anyone suspected of impaired driving who refuses to take a blood test will have their license revoked for a minimum of one year, said trooper Josh Lewis. Drivers found to have more than 5 nanograms of THC - or tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana - in their blood are legally impaired.

State Patrol has 64 troopers who are trained in expert drug recognition.

Last year, 12 impaired driving citations were issued in El Paso County, according to State Patrol data.

Of those, five involved marijuana and alcohol, one involved marijuana only and one involved marijuana and other substances. Five citations involved other drugs.

In Teller County, State Patrol reported one citation involving marijuana.

Through its "Drive High, Get a DUI" campaign, the Colorado Department of Transportation reported that 51 percent of marijuana users did not think they'd be cited for driving while under the influence of the drug. About 55 percent of them drove a vehicle within 2 hours of consuming marijuana, a CDOT survey found.

"Our research indicates that unfortunately a lot of marijuana users are driving high and many believe they will not get a DUI for doing so," CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said in a statement. "Our goal is to keep our roadways safe from impaired drivers, which will take a combination of strong enforcement and public education targeted at marijuana users."

State Patrol does not have a time recommendation to fully recover from the impairment, as marijuana affects people differently based on their size, consumption and experience with the drug.

Editorial assistant

Chhun Sun is the editorial assistant of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers. A Thailand-born Cambodian-American, he joined The Gazette's staff in April 2015 — covering everything from public safety to sports and outdoors to local/state politics.

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