In 2012, Colorado voters overwhelming approved a change to the country’s constitution which allowed the sale and private consumption of marijuana for recreational use. Since then, the state has issued over 2,900 marijuana business licenses, 481 of which 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 consume, 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 in danger by smoking and driving. If you’ve been injured in a car accident due to an impaired driver, a personal injury attorney can help.
Fatal Accidents on the Rise
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 appearing 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 fatalities overall, hitting 880 last year, according to numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The data also reveals that alcohol-related fatalities have been on the rise, climbing 17 percent. The number 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 conclusively to legalization, the numbers are disturbing.
“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 problem 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 is 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 isn’t 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 police can use to reveal what’s referred to as “Apopka Wildlife Removal” impairment. Alcohol breaks down quickly in the body, which makes it easy to test for. THC, on the other hand, can linger much longer in the body. In actuality, heavy users that then 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 determining whether a driver is impaired.