Are Roads Less Safe Since Marijuana Legalization? The Answer is Hazy

By January 13, 2016Thomas Law Firm

Before marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Colorado, one of the big worries was that legalization could lead to increased rates of drugged driving, potentially leading to accidents. Now that it has been legal for three years, there have been many studies, and the conclusion that researchers and lawmakers have come to might as well have come from a Magic 8-Ball. “Reply hazy, try again.”

Colorado is a trailblazer in that our state was the first in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana use, and as expected, the other states have looked to us to adjust traffic laws and do all of the work necessary to ensure that marijuana does not lead to increased danger while driving. But it has been a slow transition – for decades, the major focus of law enforcement regarding DUI has been alcohol use. Police spend a full 24 hours during basic training learning the ropes of detecting and testing drunk drivers. The state keeps numerous detailed records regarding alcohol-related infractions. No such extensive training or data existed for marijuana until very recently, and what does exist is far too vague to answer the question of whether legalization has made roads more dangerous.

It was only in 2014 that Colorado began to measure marijuana-related traffic citations – for accurate statistics, at least two years are needed, according to a spokesperson with the Colorado State Patrol.

If ever a clear answer emerges, it may not even come from Colorado. While Colorado marijuana DUI charges are categorized under general DUI, other states who legalized after Colorado separate DUIs into alcohol and drug categories. Take, for example, Washington state, which uses a central toxicology lab for DUI testing results. In Colorado, we have several labs that do toxicology testing depending on the law enforcement agency; as such, Washington, with its centralized database, could be in a better position to study the effects of legalization on DUI rates.

If marijuana were as dangerous as alcohol on the road, surely the statistics would make that abundantly clear, but it is difficult, given the novelty of legalization, to make any accurate statement regarding the issue.

Our team of Denver DUI lawyers understands how prosecutors pursue DUI cases and is well-equipped to handle the complexities of Colorado law.

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