Marijuana: Are new pot smokers an even bigger danger when they drive high?

Even before the passage of Amendment 64, which allows adults age 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana, law-enforcement agencies have campaigned against driving under the influence of drugs, even though, from a statistical standpoint, alcohol-related DUIs dwarf pot-related ones.

This weekend, Arvada's Keith Kilbey became a part of the debate after crashing into Colorado State Patrol vehicles investigating an earlier crash. Photos and details about the incident and more below.

Just prior to 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 11, according to the CSP, two troopers were investigating a crash on the ramp from I-76 to northbound I-25. In an effort to do so safely, they'd positioned their vehicles -- a Ford Crown Victoria and a Dodge Charger -- in a manner intended to block the left lane of the ramp.

The emergency lights on the rides were activated, so presumably they should have been easy to see. But somehow, Kilbey, 23, who was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet truck, didn't notice them. He allegedly smacked into the Crown Vic, pushing it into the Charger.

Here's one CSP photo from the scene....

Marijuana: Are new pot smokers an even bigger danger when they drive high?

...and another....

Marijuana: Are new pot smokers an even bigger danger when they drive high?

...and one more:

Marijuana: Are new pot smokers an even bigger danger when they drive high?

Shortly thereafter, says CSP spokesman Officer Nate Reid, Kilbey was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs -- namely, marijuana.

"Suspicion" is the key word here, since blood test results for THC take much longer to process than those involving alcohol.

Neither of the troopers at the scene were injured, unlike a trooper in Gilpin County back on January 4, who had to be hospitalized after his car was hit by an SUV piloted by Westminster's David Kaai in a wreck that wasn't weed-related.

Still, spokesman Reid is worried that more wipe-outs of the sort that took place on Saturday could be in the offing if people insist on driving high.

"Everybody knows that driving under the influence is illegal," he says. "And just like alcohol is legal when it's used away from a vehicle and away from driving, marijuana is now legal away from driving, too. But when you mix the two, it can be dangerous.

"Luckily, no one was hurt this time. But there are people who have been injured in the past and will be injured in the future because of this."

In Reid's view, those who driving after trying marijuana for the first time, or the first time in a long while, are a particular concern.

"If people who maybe aren't used to what marijuana does to them use it and then get in their car, it can turn out badly," he allows. "Just because you feel okay, it can still have an effect on the way you drive. And if you put yourself behind a 3,000 pound vehicle after you ingest something when you don't know the effect on your body, it can be very dangerous."

And not just for the marijuana user.

"Our troopers and a lot of other emergency personnel work on the highways," he says. "So if someone's not paying attention and their ability to operate a vehicle is adjusted by marijuana or alcohol, that puts people at risk who are trying to get us back on the road -- tow-truck drivers, sheriffs deputies, and regular citizens, too."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa August 2011: "Drug enforcement checkpoint on I-25: Five tickets, two arrests out of 32 stops."

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