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Is marijuana making Colorado more dangerous?

When one of the nation’s leading newspapers cites Colorado as a reason for voters to reject marijuana legalization, it’s time to ask if allowing recreational use of marijuana has made our state more dangerous.

The Washington Post recently said voters in the District of Columbia should oppose legalization, pointing to Colorado as an example of where a change in pot law has resulted in “increased instances of impaired driving.”

At the beginning of 2014, the Colorado State Patrol began collecting data on DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) arrests, cataloguing the offenses by drug type. In the first five months of the year, the State Patrol found that 12.5 percent of DUI drivers tested positive for marijuana.

However, because traces of marijuana can stay in the body much longer than alcohol and some other intoxicating substances (pot can stay in the system for weeks), it’s unclear if the drivers tested were actually high on marijuana at the time.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that researchers and experts continue to debate the effects of marijuana on drivers. There is some evidence that marijuana users are aware of their impairment and adjust their driving to compensate.

A drug policy expert told the New York Times that one of the jokes about Cheech and Chong was that the stoner duo was “arrested for doing 20 on the freeway.”

There’s conflicting evidence on marijuana use and road safety: a Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation study determined that pot did not increase chances of being in a car accident, while a Columbia University study found that marijuana use doubles the risk of being in a fatal crash (alcohol use multiplies the risk by a factor of 13).

As our laws evolve, so does testing, research and law enforcement efforts. Those facing a DUID charge should speak with an attorney before entering a plea or discussing the matter with police or prosecutors.

Source: Vox, "What we don't know about Colorado’s stoned drivers," German Lopez, Sept. 15, 2014

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