Since the legalization of recreational marijuana began in Colorado, the police have been searching for a method or device that would help them detect marijuana use in car crash victims. They’d like to obtain something as efficient as a breathalyzer that is used to detect alcohol. Their mission, as always, is to help keep Colorado’s highways safe.
So far, they have not made a lot of progress.
Major Steve Garcia, training services branch commander for Colorado State Patrol, said that when possibly high drivers are pulled over, it’s up to them whether they want to be involved in the state’s testing. Garcia believes that criminal defense attorneys may be advising people not to participate in being tested.
The highway safety manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation indicates that “Colorado law enforcement is highly trained to detect people under the influence of alcohol, and we’re making some significant gains in training officers to also recognize people that are impaired by other substances.”
There’s no doubt that the number of drivers in Colorado who have been involved in car crashes has increased significantly over the past few years, according to the Denverite. The number of drivers who tested positive for THC and were involved in wrecks where someone died jumped by 80 percent, from 55 in 2013 to 99 in 2015, according to data reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, that does not confirm that the drivers were under the influence at the time of the crash. The only way to determine if someone is over the limit of 5 ng of THC is with a blood test, and the drivers are allowed to refuse that test.
The Colorado State Patrol began a pilot program in January of 2015 that includes two components:
- Education of troopers to help recognize if people are under the influence of THC
- Devices that measure THC content in saliva
There is also on-going education to the public regarding “drugged driving.” Many people believe that driving under the influence doesn’t affect them (because they are not “falling down” as they might be with alcohol), or that they actually drive better if they have been smoking pot.
There is still a long way to go for law enforcement to get their arms around this, but there is growing evidence that driving while under the influence of THC is not only dangerous, but has been and is contributing to fatal automobile accidents.