If you see a 28-foot-high marijuana joint fashioned from a car on the side of the Courtyard Marriott at 934 16th Street, don't be alarmed — or inspired. Part of a giant billboard installed today, the joint is just the latest ploy by the Colorado Department of Transportation to push its Dangerous Combinations campaign.
The campaign, which launched in May, is part of the larger Drive High, Get a DUI program, and is designed to cut down on the number of people driving while high. Drive High, Get a DUI was established soon after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana; the first year of the program worked to educate people that they could get a DUI if they drove high.
"A lot of people didn't know," says Sam Cole, safety communications manager at CDOT. "Twenty percent of the DUIs the state patrol hands out are for marijuana, and we have more officers trained to detect that than ever before."
The campaign's message is simple: Driving high is dangerous and illegal. In a self-reported survey conducted last year, CDOT found that "55 percent of marijuana users drove high an average of seven days per month,"the department says.
In a separate analysis, the Colorado State Patrol found that so far this year, "nearly one out of every five DUIs in Colorado involves marijuana."
Since the start of Dangerous Combinations, CDOT has teamed up with dispensaries across the state to display educational posters where marijuana is being purchased; next month it will have safety messages printed on rolling papers.
But this is the first time the campaign has used a 3-D billboard — not to mention one that glows at night.
"The top of it will glow red at night so it'll either look like a car on fire or a lit joint," explains Cole. The downtown Marriott location was chosen for the billboard because there are six dispensaries within a mile radius — and plenty of tourists who could be shopping for pot. The line under the joint? "Hits Lead to Hits."
"A lot of visitors from out of town don't know the risks or the laws around driving high... and locals need a reminder every now and then," Cole says.
The legal limit for THC is currently 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (although Westword proved years ago that marijuana users can be stone-cold sober with that level of THC). Blood tests are still the standard for evaluating marijuana impairment, but Colorado State Patrol troopers are now testing out new devices that will allow them to conduct a roadside test for drugs using saliva.
There are 200 Drug Recognition Experts in the state, and Cole says that officers frequently call in experts when they suspect marijuana could have been a factor in a crash. "They have really sophisticated ways to evaluate somebody that a typical officer does not," he adds.
In Colorado, the penalties for marijuana DUIs are the same as they are for alcohol DUIs.
Next year, CDOT plans to expand the campaign's reach with more targeted advertising. For example, using the location feature on your phone, CDOT will be able to send an ad reminding people about the dangers of driving while high whenever they go into a dispensary.