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Marijuana: At least 75 percent of DUIs in one Colorado city involve alcohol, not pot

Images from a Denver Police Department video spotlighting a 2013 DUI checkpoint.
Images from a Denver Police Department video spotlighting a 2013 DUI checkpoint.

In the months since limited marijuana use and possession became legal for adults 21 and over, we've been seeking out statistics related to driving under the influence of marijuana in the hope of determining how the number of offenses compares to alcohol-related DUIs. Earlier this month, for instance, we revealed that at one Larimer County checkpoint, the ratio of alcohol to pot busts was 21 to 1.

Now, the City of Lakewood has provided us with information about a checkpoint last Friday night, as well as figures compiled between 2009 and 2013. The data shows that at least 75 percent of DUI arrests over these periods involved alcohol -- and that total is often a whole lot higher.

During the May 23 checkpoint, conducted at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, Lakewood police officers contacted 1,689 cars, with four DUI arrests made. Of those, one was classified as DUID: driving under the influence of drugs. In the latter case, the drug was marijuana.

Marijuana: At least 75 percent of DUIs in one Colorado city involve alcohol, not pot

Obviously, this is a very low sample size -- but the other information provided by Lakewood police spokesman Steve Davis involves a lot more arrests. Specifically, Lakewood Police Department personnel compared driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under the influence of drugs from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2013, just prior to the January 1, 2014 launch of legal recreational marijuana sales. And the stats are eye-opening.

The entire LPD document is below, but here's a sampling.

In 2009, there were 876 DUIs in Lakewood. Of those, drug use was suspected in 101 of them, or about 11.5 percent. However, that number includes all drugs, not just marijuana. Pot was actually found in 38 instances, or around 4.3 percent of the time, while other drugs were spotted 32 times.

Does that mean only 4.3 percent of DUI arrests involved marijuana? Not necessarily. Drivers could have been driving high on pot but not have had any in their vehicle, suggesting that the actual number may be greater. Then again, some cases may have involved both alcohol and marijuana, making it difficult for officers to discern which substance resulted in the driving infraction or if it had been a combination of two or more.

Consider those caveats in the context of numbers from 2010, 2011 and 2012, which rose incrementally above those in 2009.

In 2010, Lakewood recorded 776 DUIs, with 121 thought to involve drugs -- approximately 15.6 percent. Cannabis was found in 6.7 percent of the stops.

In 2011, DUIs dipped slightly, to 754. Of those, drugs were suspected in 131 -- about 17.4 percent. Marijuana was found around 8.5 percent of the time.

In 2012, the DUI total in Lakewood was 614, with drugs suspected in 123, or approximately 20 percent. Cops found pot 61 times: approximately 10 percent.

Marijuana: At least 75 percent of DUIs in one Colorado city involve alcohol, not pot

Last year, however, the marijuana numbers fell slightly even though Amendment 64 had already passed and municipalities were preparing for marijuana legalization. The 2013 DUI total was 581, with drugs suspected in 112 cases, or 19.3 percent. Weed turned up 51 times, or 8.8 percent.

The LPD's Davis encourages people not to jump to conclusions after perusing these statistics. In his view, it may take five-to-ten years before we can determine "that we made a mistake" by legalizing marijuana for recreational use or "it's no big deal."

Here's the aforementioned document laying out the Lakewood DUI statistics for 2009 through 2013.

Lakewood DUI and DUID Statistics 2009 2013

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa May 13: "Marijuana: Ratio of alcohol DUI busts to pot stops at weekend checkpoint was 21 to 1."


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