Aug 29, 2011 7:42 PM by Andy Koen
Billboards and gas pumps in Colorado now carry a specific message warning drivers not to get behind the wheel if they've used marijuana or some other prescription drug. As part of the Heat is On campaign, the Colorado Department of Transportation notes that 16 percent of all traffic fatalities in past 5 years have involved a driver who was using drugs.
Sergeant Craig Simpson of the Colorado Springs Police Department is a state qualified Drug Recognition Expert. He says there growth of the number of drivers who are under the influence of drugs has been noticeable.
"We're seeing a rise in the medical marijuana, the marijuana impaired driver as well as prescription drug impaired drivers," Simpson said.
He says officers who have received the training he has can observe changes in a persons eyes, pulse rate and blood pressure as indications that they have been using drugs.
Medical marijuana advocates support the message of not medicating and driving. However, Tanya Garduno of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council (CSMCC) worries that some officers may overstep their bounds.
"It's very alarming because we're afraid patients are going to be targeted," Garduno said. "You could just be coming out of a center and be pulled over, we've had instances where that's happened."
As with suspected drunk drivers, the cops will request blood tests and other sobriety checks on those who seem impaired. Refusing to comply carries a fine.
Marijuana can stay an a person's blood long after the affect has worn off, which was a sticking point in the debate this spring as lawmakers tried to define legal limits on impairment.
Even without specific legal limits for marijuana, Simpson says officers can still arrest an impaired driver under laws already on the books.
"If the person is impaired by alcohol, drugs or any combination of that, then they're under arrest for DUI."
Garduno says the CSMCC is available to help marijuana patients with questions about when it's safe to drive. You can find their contact information by clicking here.