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CannaBiz: Back behind the wheel


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Beware: the hotbox

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, marijuana-related traffic incidents increased by 35 percent across the state from 2009 to 2010. The numbers, first reported by the Longmont Times-Call, include DUIs and arrests for illegal possession.

Colorado Springs does not keep a record of how many such incidents involved marijuana. But Sgt. Mickey Finn doesn't recall there being any notable changes here, at least during checkpoints.

"When I was running the checkpoints, I didn't see an increase in drug-related arrests," says Finn, who was in charge of checkpoints in 2009 and 2010. "We would usually, on the average, get one or two per checkpoint."

Some medical marijuana advocates are concerned, however, that MMJ users may be unfairly targeted by a system with no clear or legal way to distinguish the level of a driver's impairment. A house bill during the last state legislative session would have set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of a driver's blood, but failed, largely because the limit seemed arbitrary.

"You shouldn't drive under impairment on any medication, but prescribed patients who use it regularly, really don't get high. It's strictly for pain," says Tanya Garduno, president and co-founder of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council.

Stoners or sufferers?

The Colorado Department of Human Services seems to buy into a federal survey that reveals Colorado ranks far higher than the national average in marijuana usage.

The survey, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, revealed marijuana use among Colorado adults was 35.5 percent in 2008-09, compared to a 29.1 percent national average. The federal survey places marijuana use along the same lines as cocaine use and binge drinking, in which the state also places above the national average.

"Well, they don't differentiate between marijuana and medical marijuana in these national studies. There's an increase in Colorado because we have more patients here than anyplace else," Garduno says. "I'd love to see how big of a decrease there is in opiate and narcotic prescription [use] during that time."

Liz McDonough, DHS spokeswoman, says she'd rather not consider how MMJ might have skewed these numbers.

"The impact of medical marijuana would be premature to talk about as far as this survey is concerned. We hope it doesn't get considered," she says. "We want to identify those folks needing treatment and get them into resources as soon as we can."

At the end of 2009, 41,039 Coloradans held valid MMJ cards; the May 2011 figure was 127,444.


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