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Alcohol versus pot DUIs: How do they compare?

Last week's feature on Jenny Kush, a cannabis activist killed by a drunk driver, brought to light just one of the 1,342 impaired-driving arrests in Colorado made over a nineteen-day period around Labor Day weekend.

Figuring out how many people are caught driving stoned is especially important here, since doing so is a crime in the state and both law enforcement and elected officials describe the issue as a growing menace. Unfortunately, though, there's no one central repository for this information.

Back in May, state legislators finally pushed through legislation establishing an intoxication standard for stoned driving: five nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. During the debate, legislators like Senator Steve King, who co-sponsored the bill, often cited questionable statistics on THC-DUI deaths and accidents and was fond of telling about people "dying on the highways and byways" from red-eyed monsters behind the wheel.

A drugged-driving poster released by the Colorado Department of Transportation last year.
A drugged-driving poster released by the Colorado Department of Transportation last year.

If that was the case, we wondered if statistics from Labor Day weekend would help shed some light on such claims -- especially when looking at drug versus alcohol DUIs.

But the numbers we got from the Colorado Department of Transportation reflect all arrests for driving under the influence reported by police and troopers in the metro area, with no description of whether the driver tested positive for marijuana, drugs or alcohol -- or if they were tested at all. (Some drivers refuse testing, as is their right.)

Police officers often report what substance they suspect was influencing drivers. In the past, all it took was a cop's anecdotal evidence (smokey breath, dilated eyes, ashes in a pipe) to convict someone of THC DUI. These days, it also takes a blood test.

For people who are tested, their tests take about six weeks to yield results, and even then, the totals aren't reported to a single agency. In order to get that information, then, a reporter would have to contact jurisdictions individually.

Which is exactly what we plan to do. By mid-October, the statistics for most of the metro area should be available, at which point we'll compile the information and compare them against raw data from CDOT.

More from our Marijuana archive: "War of words, claims of nausea over criticism of free-joint rally" and "See Jenny Kush hosting SexPot Radio before her tragic death."


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