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State study: Only 6% of Colorado DUI suspects used marijuana

Author: Ellie Mulder, The Gazette - August 10, 2018 - Updated: August 23, 2018

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Different types of marijuana sit on display. (AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

The vast majority of Coloradans suspected of driving under the influence in 2016 had been drinking, but only a small fraction had used marijuana, says a first-of-its-kind study of DUI cases published by the state Division of Criminal Justice.

But drug-related impairment likely is under-represented in the data, a state news release says, “due to the fact that alcohol is faster, easier and cheaper to screen for than other drugs. Once alcohol is detected, agencies have enough evidence to reliably achieve a conviction. Therefore, agencies have not consistently spent the additional money and time to request blood testing for substances beyond alcohol.”

More than 91 percent of suspects who had a toxicology screen done had alcohol in their systems, while only 6.2 percent had marijuana, the data show.

One impairing substance was found in the systems of 86.4 percent of subjects in the survey. Nearly 13 percent had more than one substance in their systems, and about 1 percent were found not to be impaired.

The most likely combination of substances, however, was marijuana and alcohol, with 829 cases involving both.

State lawmakers and officials have made understanding the prevalence and effects of marijuana-involved driving a priority, the study says.

“Since commercialized recreational marijuana became available in Colorado in 2014, concerns have increased about the impact of driving while high.”

The study, released this week, analyzed more than 27,000 DUI cases filed in Colorado in 2016. Among its findings:

• Nearly 75 percent of defendants were male, and more than 30 percent were men in their 20s. Men also accounted for nearly 88 percent of felony cases and were more likely to have prior DUI offenses.

• People in their 20s had the highest rate of offenses, with the rate peaking at age 24 for women and age 25 for men.

• In 88 percent of cases, the defendant was found guilty with a “guilty,” “deferred” or “deferred dismissed” disposition, while 10 percent were dismissed outright and 1 percent were found not guilty.

• Nearly 38 percent of defendants had prior DUI convictions.

• About 26 percent of defendants were in a wreck. But nearly a third of traffic fatalities in the state involve drugs or alcohol, the Colorado Department of Transportation says.

• The top three arresting agencies were the Colorado State Patrol, Denver police and Aurora police.

“The outcomes of the court cases show that our community takes DUI crimes seriously, and that there are serious consequences for driving under the influence,” said Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Department of Public Safety, in the release.

“Yet despite these consequences, it is concerning that nearly 38 percent of defendants had prior DUI convictions.”

Ellie Mulder, The Gazette

Ellie Mulder, The Gazette