Opponents of a ballot question that would legalize recreational marijuana, say 25 percent of traffic fatalities in Colorado involve marijuana. Pot use is legal there.
However, numbers from the Colorado Department of Transportation show fatal crashes involving pot-impaired drivers is much lower.
The statistic comes from a federal program designed to track and reduce drug use. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area shows that marijuana related traffic deaths increased from fifteen percent in 2013, to 25 percent in 2019.
David Owen is opposed to Amendment A, which would legalize marijuana in South Dakota.
“You’re going to make legal another intoxicant,” Owen says. “People are going to drive under the influence, just like they drive drunk now. What this report clearly suggests is you’re going to have an increase in traffic fatalities and accidents with people who were driving under the influence of marijuana.”
Colorado officials say the fatalities connected to marijuana impairment reflect the fact that the intoxicant in marijuana is detectable days, sometimes even a week, after use. That’s much longer than alcohol.
Colorado defines marijuana intoxication at 5 nanograms of THC in someone’s blood.
Sam Cole is the traffic safety manager for Colorado’s Department of Transportation. He says 8 percent of fatal crashes are caused by drivers intoxicated from marijuana.
“We only look at impairing substances,” Cole says. “They may be looking at all forms of marijuana, whether it’s inactive or active. In other words, impairing or nonimpairing. Rocky Mountain HIDTA, I think, is throwing in some data that isn’t helpful for an informed decision.”
The Colorado Department of Health reports the state has seen a four percent increase in marijuana impaired driving within two to three hours after use. The study has a three percent margin of error. Cole says for states that legalize marijuana, outreach and enforcement on impaired driving is critical. Revenue from pot-related taxes allows Colorado to take more aggressive, proactive steps to curb impaired driving.