Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Heat is on for drivers under the influence -- whether of alcohol or pot

Before the ball drops tonight, the cops could get a drop on you: Once again, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol have teamed up with 76 law-enforcement agencies throughout Colorado to increase DUI enforcement through Thursday, January 2. During last year's New Year's Eve enforcement period, 501 people were arrested on state roadways for DUI, and there were two alcohol-related fatalities. And despite the start of retail sales of recreational marijuana tomorrow, law-enforcement won't care what drivers are under the influence of...

Not that it's easy to tell from the police reports. During the Labor Day crackdown, there were more than 1,320 DUI arrests -- one of the drunk driver who crashed into a car carrying cannabis activist Jenny Kush, who was killed in the collision. But while law-enforcement sent tallies of their arrests to CDOT, they did not distinguish between arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

And despite the brave new world of recreational retail marijuana sales, there are no changes to how the New Year's crackdown arrests will be reported. "It's still a challenge for us to differentiate between the two," says CDOT's Emily Wilfong. "People don't understand the challenges."

William Breathes does: After writing about the death of Jenny Kush, he tried to discover how many of the Labor Day DUI arrests were for driving under the influence of marijuana. Read the results of his labor in "Under the Influence."

"It would probably take legislation" to require more specific statistics on marijuana-impaired driving, Wilfong suggests. But in the meantime, the heat is definitely on New Year's Eve.

More from Calhoun's Wake-Up Call: "What's in store for Colorado on January 1?"

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun