More than half of marijuana users surveyed said they “consistently” drove while high in the last 30 days.
Driving while high has not risen to the level of havoc caused by drunken driving but it has become enough of a problem that government officials in Colorado and the state’s marijuana industry have teamed up to address it.
In 2016 alone, the state had 77 fatal wrecks that involved drivers with THC in their bloodstream, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. THC is the chemical ingredient in cannabis that is psychoactive – in other words, it’s what causes the high feeling.
Officials in the Rocky Mountain State have partnered with the marijuana industry to launch a new project that offers state residents the chance to participate in a “Cannabis Conversation” by taking an online survey.
The survey is designed to gather the opinions of state residents regarding the drugged driving issue and collect information on their habits and behavior regarding marijuana use and driving.
That information will, in turn, guide public officials and the marijuana industry on practical ways to reduce drugged driving. It’s a multi-year effort. It’s also needed because both law enforcement officials and businesses involved with legal marijuana recognize past efforts have not worked.
Complicated and controversial
Driving under the influence of cannabis is a complicated, and even controversial, topic for many reasons. State police, academic researchers and private companies are still looking for ways to accurately determine whether a driver is impaired. There is continued debate over what even constitutes driving while impaired by cannabis.
The issue also has been politicized. Fatality figures such as the one from 2016 in Colorado are used by marijuana opponents to argue against legalization.
Industry advocates point out such numbers have not been treated as a litmus test for legalization of products. Our own federal government reports that more than 16 million Americans live with diseases caused by cigarette smoking. Also, excessive use of alcohol led to about 88,000 deaths every year between 2006 and 2010.
That offers perspective, but no one argues drugged driving is an issue that can be ignored.
The Colorado Approach
Both Colorado officials and marijuana industry leaders have led public education efforts in the past to educate against drugged driving. The state Department of Transportation reports that those efforts have reached 90 percent of those who use marijuana in the state. They now understand they can get a DUI for drugged driving. However, more than 50 percent of marijuana users “consistently” report they drove while high in the last 30 days.
What gives? State officials suspect that people have a different view of drugged driving than they do drunk driving. They hope the “Colorado Conversation” will provide insight into people’s attitudes on the issue, as well as more information on how often they do it and under what circumstances.
Sam Cole, safety communications manager at Colorado Department of Transportation, told the CBS affiliate in Denver that the initiative is about “hearing from many different voices on the topic of driving high and understanding how we can more effectively connect with people about the dangers of doing so.”
Cole also noted that while drunk driving has been a topic in the national conversation for decades ”we aren’t having the same conversations about driving high.”
Kristi Kelly, executive director of Colorado’s Marijuana Industry Group, said cannabis businesses are partnering with the state on the program because “responsible consumption and reducing marijuana-impaired driving is a shared priority.”