As the state launches a new "Drive High, Get a DUI" campaign to remind drivers not to use marijuana before driving, Boulder County law enforcement officials say officers will need more training to spot stoned drivers.
The Colorado Department of Transportation campaign includes radio and TV ads and new posters to be displayed in dispensaries. State police chiefs also told lawmakers this week that they need more money to train officers in recognizing stoned drivers.
"I strongly support this, and I think it's a terrific campaign," said Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett. "I'm glad the state is initiating it, and I think it will help to protect our community."
Garnett said reducing stoned driving is a three-step process.
"We need to educate people and help them understand this is really an issue," Garnett said. "Second, we need to train police officers so they have the tools to determine who is impaired and who isn't, and third, we need to enforce the new (5 nanogram THC) limit."
Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner said with the passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012 and the opening this year of recreational marijuana shops, officers need additional training on spotting stoned drivers.
"Certainly there is a concern," Beckner said.
He said police don't have a portable breath test they can use for drivers under the influence of drugs, so officers will have to rely more on physical signs.
"That's why we have to provide the training on what are the indications someone may be under the influence of marijuana," Beckner said.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said officers and deputies also need to be sure they are trained in how to document instances of driving while high for the purposes of prosecution.
"The focus has always been on alcohol," Pelle said. "The difference now is we need to sharpen our skills in the area of drug detection and documentation. That's what we need to be able to do to win these cases in court. So I think that's a fairly new thing from when we were looking for drunk drivers."
Both Beckner and Pelle said not enough time has passed since marijuana became legal and recreational pot shops opened for them to see if either of those developments have affected the number of people driving stoned.
"It's too soon to do an analysis," Beckner said. "Maybe at the end of this year, we'll have a better idea of whether there was any significant increase."
But Garnett said countywide, cases of driving under the influence of marijuana have been increasing since the medical marijuana industry arrived, and he said he expects to see a similar rise with recreational marijuana.
"The rise has been gradual, and it's come with the development of the dispensary industry and the more widespread availability of medical marijuana," Garnett said. "I expect to see an increase with the more widespread use of recreational marijuana."
Officials are hoping education campaigns like the state's will help curb that.
"The message is to use (marijuana) responsibly, use it legally, but don't use it and drive, and that message has got to be reinforced," Pelle said.
Added Beckner, "If people are going to start smoking dope, they need to be aware they can't get behind the wheel. It can be just as dangerous as driving drunk."