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As Colorado auto deaths involving marijuana rise, CDOT is asking thousands how they feel about driving under pot’s influence

Amid a rise in Colorado auto fatalities involving marijuana, state transportation officials are surveying thousands of residents this year to better understand public attitudes toward driving under the influence of pot, with the hopes of blunting the increasingly deadly trend.

The Cannabis Conversation, a campaign led by the Colorado Department of Transportation, law enforcement and the marijuana industry, launched this year. It held its first open house in the metro area Wednesday at Denver’s Montclair Recreation Center, and there will be more meetings in Fort Collins, Pueblo and Denver in the coming weeks.

The number of marijuana-related automobile fatalities in Colorado, as measured by the drug’s chief psychoactive ingredient, hit 77 in 2016, the latest in a series of sharp increases in recent years. Fifty-one of those drivers had levels of that substance, called Delta 9 THC, above the threshold for cannabis impairment under Colorado law.

And according to a survey done by CDOT last year, just over half of marijuana users said they had gotten behind the wheel of a vehicle in the last 30 days within two hours of using the drug. That percentage was little changed from the response to the same question a year earlier.

“That’s really troubling to us,” CDOT communications manager Sam Cole told an audience gathered at a Lowry neighborhood recreation center last week. “We’re a little frustrated we’re not moving the needle on driver behavior.”

People at the meeting were asked to share their thoughts on driving under pot’s influence by using whiteboards and computer questionnaires and even by dropping stones into mason jars corresponding to certain questions about marijuana and vehicular use.

In the campaign’s online component, a survey has already yielded 10,000 responses, according to CDOT — data that will be assembled, unwrapped and analyzed this summer.

“We want to better understand why some users of marijuana don’t take the dangers of driving more seriously — and what we could say to make them change their minds,” said Cole in an interview with The Denver Post. “We want to get into the heads of marijuana users.”

Marijuana-related automobile fatalities still lag significantly behind alcohol-related fatalities — 8 percent versus 26 percent, respectively, of the state’s 608 total road fatalities in 2016 — but Glenn Davis, CDOT’s highway safety manager, isn’t resting easy.