In 2012, Colorado voters overwhelming approved a change to the country’s constitution which allowed the sale and private usage of marijuana for recreational use. Since that time, 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 motorists seem to be ignoring that and are putting lives at risk by driving and smoking. If you’ve been hurt in an auto accident due to 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 medication are also emerging in drivers who tested positive. This past year, in one extreme example, one driver tested at 22 times the legal limit for bud.
By 2013-16, Colorado experienced a 40 percent spike in the amount of traffic deaths overall, hitting 880 final year, according to numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The data also shows that alcohol-related fatalities have been on the increase, climbing 17 percent. The amount of drivers who tested positive for marijuana, however, jumped almost 150 percent, and now constitute 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 to legalization, the numbers are disturbing.
“So all those numbers really tell us is that, because legal adult-use sales started, a larger number of people are consuming cannabis and then, at some stage… driving a car.”
That’s the issue facing state and local authorities. Cannabis use is skyrocketing, but law enforcement officials are still struggling to discover a way to definitively test drivers. There is no bud breathalyzer or blood test that authorities can use to test motorists. 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, regardless of the frantic efforts of scientists to establish one.
Colorado uses a THC blood test that authorities can use to reveal what is known as”presumed” impairment. Alcohol breaks down quickly in the body, which makes it easy to test for. In actuality, heavy users that subsequently abstain from marijuana can still test positive a month or more later.
At least two private companies are exploring breath detection apparatus, but scientists estimate they are months or years away from hitting the market. Because of this, Colorado has begun training its officers in what to look for during traffic stops when determining if a driver is impaired.