Treatment center says legalized pot boosts marijuana-based DUI charges

Colorado has reached the six-month mark of its regulated marijuana experiment, and data reveal – at least by one estimate – an apparent doubling of marijuana-based charges for driving under the influence (DUI).

Arapahoe House, a detox facility near Denver, reports that the number of its patients arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana jumped from 8 percent last year to 15 percent this year, according to an article in USA Today.

“This percentage increase is significant because recreational marijuana legalization is in its infancy and there has clearly already been an impact on public safety,” Art Schut told USA Today. He is president and CEO of Arapahoe House, Colorado’s largest detox network.

“Our hope is that this new data will create awareness so that if Coloradans choose to use marijuana, they do not get behind the wheel,” Schut said.

During the first six months of 2014, 197 of the 1,311 people brought to Arapahoe House after being busted for DUI were high on pot, compared to 112 out of 1,324 during the same period last year.

Arapahoe House Communications Director Kate Osmundson told NBC News the detox facility expects an increase in marijuana DUIs now that the drug may be legally purchased.

The regulation, cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana to adults age 21 and over became legal with the passage of Amendment 64 during the November 2012 election. The first legal marijuana retail stores opened in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014.

The Arapahoe House findings provide further evidence that operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana is dangerous. In February, Columbia University published research that showed an 8 percent increase between 1999 and 2010 in the number of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana.

Drivers may not operate a motor vehicle with 5 nanograms of active THC in their bloodstream, a threshold Colorado regulators say is comparable to the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol concentration used in drinking-and-driving cases.

Colorado, however, is struggling to keep accurate statewide records on marijuana-impaired drivers because prior to Jan. 1, stoned drivers were treated like drunk drivers. Since marijuana became legal, about 12.5 percent of all citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol have been issued to marijuana-impaired drivers, the New York Times reports.

The state recently launched a $1 million “Drive High, Get a DUI” television campaign in an effort to curb stoned driving.

In addition to drawing possible criminal penalties, those who cause car accidents as a result of marijuana impairment can be held legally responsible for the harm they cause.

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