Marijuana is Legal in Colorado, DWI Isn’t

Colorado’s Amendment 64 allows state residents to buy 1 ounce of marijuana at a time from the state’s dispensaries. (Out-of-state residents are limited to a quarter ounce at a time.) The law legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado says the state must “regulate marijuana like alcohol.” That’s why the Colorado Department of Transportation recently took the wraps off the state’s first ad campaign since the legalization of marijuana in 2012.

The “Drive High, Get a DUI” television ad campaign is financed by a $1 million federal grant from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The campaign hopes to draw attention to the problem of stoned driving. Colorado law states drivers are too high to drive if they have five nanograms or more of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood.  Drivers convicted under this law can expect their car insurance to skyrocket.

Colorado State Patrol’s January 2014 Data:

  • 402 DUI cases
  • 60 cases involved marijuana
  • Drivers in 26 cases allegedly used marijuana combined with alcohol or another drug
  • 34 used marijuana only

To educate law enforcement on how to identify stoned drivers, state troopers take part in a nine-day training course – following the training, officers are certified as “drug recognition experts.” They are re-certified every year in how to give a field sobriety test. All troopers are now required to be certified in another impaired driving test known as ARIDE, or Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection And Enforcement. In the course, officers are trained to look for specific warning signs for driving while high. They issue the same field sobriety tests as with drunk drivers, but there are procedures specially designed to detect drivers that are high.

Colorado’s Express Consent Law requires any driver to consent to a chemical test if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person is driving under the influence or their ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired because of alcohol, drugs or both.

Washington is the only other state that has legalized recreational pot. In Washington:

  • More than 1,300 drivers tested positive for marijuana in 2013; almost a 25 percent increase over 2012
  • 720 had levels high enough to lead to an automatic drugged driving conviction

Colorado Drugged Driving Penalties

In Colorado, a person is guilty of a DUI if he or she operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or one or more drugs, OR he or she operates a motor vehicle as a habitual user of any controlled substance.

The law states that in cases where THC is identified in a driver’s blood in quantities of 5mg/ml or higher, “such fact gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.”

  • First offense (DUI, DUI per se, or habitual user)
    • Up to 1 year in jail
    • $600 to $1000 fine
    • Up to 96 hours community service
    • License revocation for 9 months
  • First offense (DWAI)*
    • Up to 1 year in jail
    • $200 to $500 fine
    • Up to 48 hours community service
    • 8 points toward license suspension

* “Driving while ability impaired” or “DWAI” means driving a motor vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol, one or more drugs, or a combination of both, that affects the person to the slightest degree which fails to meet the level for DUI impairment.

The penalties increase substantially for repeated offenses.  The bottom line – if you’re caught after you choose to drive while you’re legally impaired by alcohol, marijuana or other drugs – you will see your car insurance premium increase.

Do you think there will be an increase in DWAI cases? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.