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Drugged Driving – It’s Not All About Marijuana

polydrug abuse
Colorado’s Amendment 64 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana was implemented in 2014,

Ed Wood of DUID Victim Voices (www.duidvictimvoices.org) reports the results of what may be the first study of the prevalence of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) where the arresting officer relies on their assessment of impaired rather than laboratory tests. Wood found that polydrug abuse, rather than marijuana alone, was the primary charge in DUID cases and that blood sampling delays can render blood tests meaningless in marijuana-impairment cases. This is doubly so in cases where there is no voluntary compliance with the request for a blood test thus triggering the necessity of a warrant.

Colorado’s Amendment 64 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana was implemented in 2014, but widespread advertising and availability of “medical marijuana” dispensaries ensured that marijuana was commercialized by 2010, well before this study was conducted. Colorado has a single citation for DUI irrespective of cause: alcohol, other drugs, or a combination of alcohol and other drugs. Unlike the .08 “legal limit” for alcohol, like many states Colorado has no per se limits for drugs. Amendment 64 did include 5 ng/ml THC permissible inference statute in 2013.

Reviewing Colorado’s Vehicular Homicide Cases

Colorado’s State Judicial Branch furnished a list of vehicular homicide (VH) and vehicular assault (VA) cases that had been adjudicated as of October 1, 2014. There were 222 defendants, 174 of whom were also charged with DUI in addition to VH or VA.

Wood examined the court records in each district courthouse to locate documented evidence.
Wood examined the court records in each district courthouse to locate documented evidence.

Wood examined the records in each district courthouse to locate documented evidence of the cause of the DUI charges. Intoxicants were identified in 170 of the cases: 70% alcohol, 19% other drugs plus alcohol and 11% drugs alone.

The study found that drugged driving convictions were difficult to achieve compared to alcohol impairment, likely because of greater experience with alcohol and well-established alcohol per se laws.

Wood found that warrant-based blood draws required an average of 3.8 hours, vs 2.2 hours for voluntary blood draws. Since greater than 90% of THC is cleared from a user’s blood within the first hour after smoking marijuana, these data confirm that laboratory tests of blood samples did not adequately reflect the incidence of marijuana impairment.

Polydrug Abuse is a Huge Problem in Impaired Driving Fatalities

Digging deeper into the data, Wood found that polydrug abuse, rather than marijuana alone, was the primary cause of DUID in VH and VA cases in 2013. The causes of DUI charges for 2013 VH and VA cases in Colorado were, in order of frequency:

Wood found that polydrug abuse, rather than marijuana, was the primary cause of DUID in VH and VA cases in 2013
Wood found that polydrug abuse, rather than marijuana, was the primary cause of DUID in VH and VA cases in 2013
  1. Alcohol
  2. Alcohol combined with marijuana
  3. Multiple drugs (two or more of marijuana, opiates/opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepine)
  4. Alcohol combined with methamphetamine
  5. Marijuana
  6. Alcohol combined with multiple drugs
  7. Other singe drugs (methamphetamine, opiates/opioids, cocaine, benzodiazepine)
  8. Alcohol combined with other single drugs (opiates/opioids, cocaine, benzodiazepine)
  9. Other drugs not identified

Some view Colorado’s legalization of marijuana as an experiment. But in an experiment, one must control input variables and measure outcomes. In Colorado, input variables are not controlled: The Department of Revenue in 2014 reported that less than one-half of the state’s more than 121 metric ton demand of marijuana came from regulated sources. The only outcome Colorado measures is tax revenue. This study begins to provide further information.

Article written by Ed Wood

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