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Marijuana & Driving in Colorado: What You Need to Know

Mark A. Simon March 14, 2019

Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. As such, both local residents and tourists have celebrated their ability to purchase and utilize this long-illegal drug across Denver, Littleton, Aurora and surrounds. While residents and visitors to the state may relish in the seeming legality of marijuana in Colorado, there are, in fact, many laws in place dictating its use —particularly when it comes to operating a motor vehicle. If you are under the influence of marijuana and choose to drive a motor vehicle, you must do so with extreme caution. Not only is it difficult to ascertain one’s own level of impairment when using marijuana, it is also crucial to remember that any amount of marijuana use puts you at risk of driving impaired. Driving while under the influence of any substance puts your life at risk as well as the lives of passengers and fellow drivers.

Observed Impairment vs. Legal THC Limits

As of 2012, there is a specific amount of active tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, you can have in your bloodstream before being legally over the limit. Colorado law specifies that drivers with five nanograms of THC in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI). THC is the chemical in marijuana that produces a “high.” Use of THC —whether eaten, smoked, or vaped — causes poor muscle coordination and delayed reaction times. Everyone from marijuana use advocates to law enforcement professionals strongly discourage the use of marijuana while operating machinery, including an automobile.

Although Colorado state law dictates a five nanogram minimum, it is crucial to understand that law enforcement officers have the right to base arrests on something called “observed impairment.” If the officer believes you to be too heavily under the influence of marijuana to be able to drive functionally, you will be subject to a DUI arrest. The reason for this caveat in the law is because THC affects everyone differently. While five nanograms may no be enough to impair one individual’s ability to drive, as little as two nanograms may be enough to render another person completely unable to drive.

Nearly every Colorado law enforcement officer receives professional training through a program called Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE). In addition, many law enforcement agencies across the state have specially trained Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) on staff that can detect impairment from a variety of substances, including marijuana.

Marijuana Blood Tests in Colorado

If you are pulled over while under the influence of marijuana and the police suspect you are too impaired to be operating a motor vehicle, the officer on duty may require you to take a blood test. Refusal to submit to a blood test request can result in similar penalties as refusing a breathalyzer test, among them temporary loss of your driver’s license.

In the state of Colorado, your driving privileges can be revoked if you do not cooperate with the chemical testing process requested by an investigation officer undertaking a drug-related DUI arrest. Any driver who refuses to take a blood test in Colorado is immediately designated by the state to be a “high-risk driver.” High-risk drivers can subject to a variety of mandatory stipulations, including: ignition interlock for a period of up to two years, mandatory completion of level two alcohol education and be required to attend therapy classes as specified by law. These penalties are “administrative,” which means they are applied and must be carried out by the test refuser regardless of whether a criminal conviction has been decreed.

Individuals who have permission their healthcare provider and the state of Colorado to use marijuana to treat a medical condition are not exempt from the state’s DUI laws. If any substance has impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle —from alcohol, to marijuana, to prescription medication — it is illegal for you to be driving. This includes substances have been prescribed by a doctor or legally purchased.

Marijuana & Colorado’s Open Container Law

Many marijuana users are unclear on how the use of marijuana by a passenger can affect them as a driver. Marijuana is, in fact, included in Colorado’s open container law. This law stipulates that it is illegal to have marijuana in the passenger space of your vehicle if it is: a) in an open container, b) in a container with a broken seal, or c) if there is evidence marijuana has been consumed inside your vehicle. If you are operating a motor vehicle while other individuals inside it are using marijuana, you are still violating the law. It also be noted that is also against the law to consume marijuana on any public roadway in the state of Colorado.

Injured by a Marijuana-Impaired Driver in Denver?

Unfortunately, many local Denver-area residents and visitors to our great city remain unclear the Colorado state laws pertaining to marijuana use and driving. If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident in which a marijuana-impaired driver caused you injury, we encourage you to contact the law offices of Mark A. Simon today. Our team of experienced personal injury attorneys brings decades of experience to your case, and will ensure that you get what’s rightfully yours if you have been injured by an impaired driver in the greater Denver area. If you are a marijuana user who is considering getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle in greater Denver while under the influence, think again. The consequences are not only illegal —they can be deadly.