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Colorado marijuana legalization's impact on stoned driving unknown Read more: Colorado marijuana legalization's impact on stoned driving unknown

By John Ingold
The Denver Post

When a 23-year-old Arvada man crashed his pickup into the back of a Colorado State Patrol car in January, authorities said it was an example of what could be a disturbing trend: a rise in dangerous marijuana-impaired driving.

But now, a month later, the case has become an example of a different problem: the difficulty of tracking cases of stoned driving.

While a State Patrol spokeswoman said shortly after the collision that investigators suspect driver Keith Kilbey was impaired by marijuana when the crash happened, neither his official summons nor the public accident report mentions pot. A spokeswoman for the Adams County district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case, said she couldn't comment on whether officials still contend Kilbey was stoned at the time of the crash or whether a blood test was taken. A man who answered Kilbey's telephone declined to comment.

In addition to careless driving, Kilbey has been charged with driving "under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both," according to his summons.

"In our system, this is handled as a DUI case," district attorney's spokeswoman Sue Lindsay said.

And therein lies the challenge in determining whether marijuana legalization in Colorado has led to an increase in stoned driving.

There is currently no comprehensive way to track instances of marijuana-impaired driving in Colorado. Such cases are charged in court under the same law as alcohol-impaired driving cases, meaning the two can't be separated in judicial data. Law enforcement agencies have not historically kept separate tallies on stoned-driving cases. The State Patrol began doing so this year, but it has no numbers prior to January to compare the new results to.

"Until we have a solid amount of information, we can't make that assessment," said patrol Trooper Josh Lewis.

In the past, officials have pointed to the number of blood-test samples in which the state's toxicology lab found marijuana derivatives to argue that stoned driving is increasing in Colorado. But the lab closed last year amid an integrity scandal, and the only two remaining labs in the state certified to do drug testing on blood samples say the resulting changes in their workload mean year-to-year comparisons are difficult.

"Our volume changed significantly, so it's making my data analysis more complicated," said Sarah Urfer, the owner of the ChemaTox Laboratory in Boulder.

The question isn't just academic. Whether loosening marijuana laws will lead to more stoned drivers is one of the major questions in how marijuana legalization will impact Colorado. The federal government has identified stoned driving as one of the measures it will look at to determine whether legalization succeeds.

Read more: Colorado marijuana legalization's impact on stoned driving unknown - The Denver Post 
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Background Photo Credit: Kasia Broussalian © 2015