One of the biggest concerns for the general public associated with marijuana legalization is the potential for an increased number of marijuana impaired drivers on the road. People think about the risk caused by drunk drivers, and they worry that with more people using marijuana, more people will also get behind the wheel while under the influence.
It's important for everyone to understand that Colorado's laws are very clear about impaired or drugged driving. It is absolutely against the law to operate a motor vehicle when impaired by any substance, including marijuana. Just because you can legally use something doesn't mean that you can legally drive while under the influence.
Marijuana intoxication is harder to test for during a stop
One of the most complex factors in marijuana is the difficulty with establishing impairment in users. Someone who only smokes marijuana once in a while could struggle to manage a vehicle with low levels of marijuana in one's system, while someone who uses it medically could have a major tolerance to the active compounds in marijuana.
Combine that with a lack of testing for active intoxication, and you have a legal gray area. The tests administered by law enforcement to check for marijuana test for the chemicals related to metabolizing it. In some cases, people can test positive for prolonged periods after using marijuana, meaning they are safe to drive but may still fail a chemical test.
Beyond that, it's nearly impossible to establish the impairment limit for each individual driver for enforcement purposes. Instead, the state places an arbitrary limit on blood levels of the active compounds in marijuana.
There are serious consequences to stoned or drugged driving
Under current law in Colorado, a blood test that shows even five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood could result in a conviction. There are no special rules in place for those with higher tolerances or medical needs. Although that level of THC in the bloodstream does not inherently imply intoxication, it can be grounds for a conviction under Colorado law.
Those convicted will face at least five days in jail, but they could end up imprisoned for up to a year. There could also be a fine of up to $1,000 and community service requirements. Second offenses can carry between 10 days and one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,500. Those convicted of a third or subsequent offense face a minimum of 60 days in jail, as well as mandatory drug driving education or substance abuse treatment, a fine and community service, as well as probation.
Anyone facing allegations of drugged driving should take the charges and potential consequences seriously. Failing to do so could mean a conviction that results in jail time and the loss of the ability to drive a vehicle.