Cannitrol – Cannabis Control Agent

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Efforts to curtail marijuana-impaired driving collide with evolving attitudes, medicinal use

Promoting cannabis as a safer alternative to alcohol was a tenet of the marijuana legalization movements in Colorado and other states.

Early data indicate that attitude continues when people get behind the wheel.

A recent Colorado Department of Transportation survey found that 72 percent of Colorado cannabis consumers thought it was safer to drive under the influence of marijuana than under the influence of alcohol.

That same survey also found that more than half of the 92 cannabis-using respondents drove within two hours of consuming marijuana. An equal percentage believed they could safely drive under the influence of marijuana.

The Colorado Department of Transportation hopes a nearly $1 million education effort — a doubling of funding spent last year — can steer the driving behaviors of Colorado cannabis consumers in a different direction.

The state’s safety officials know they are running up against more than just data. Efforts to stem drugged driving are colliding with cultural convictions, the role of medical marijuana in everyday lives and skepticism surrounding unproven detection technologies.

Data reveal attitudes

In the early months of legalization, state officials hoped to get a gauge on motorists’ knowledge of DUI laws and safety concerns as they related to marijuana and driving.

They got an early win: 91 percent of 114 cannabis consumers surveyed in 2014 were aware that a person could receive a DUI for driving after using marijuana recreationally.

“But then we thought that people, perhaps, would not drive high,” said Sam Cole, CDOT’s safety communications manager.

That appears to have been wishful thinking.

That same 2014 survey showed 56 percent of cannabis consumers said they drove two hours after consuming cannabis at least once a month. And while that percentage held steady in 2015 and 2016, the frequency of those users driving within hours of consumption increased sharply.

The percentage of marijuana-using consumers who drove 11 days or more in a month after recently consuming cannabis grew from 10 percent in 2014 to 21 percent in 2016, CDOT data show.