4/20 is here, and officials are warning about weed behind the wheel

DENVER (KDVR) — April 20 marks an unofficial holiday that brings together celebrators and consumers of cannabis. But law enforcement is warning people of the dangers of celebrating 4/20 without planning ahead.

“We know that a lot of people are going to be partaking in cannabis this weekend, and we just hope they don’t drive, because if they do that could be a huge mistake,” said Sam Cole, traffic safety manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Just like with weekends that involve a lot of drinking and alcohol, law enforcement will be on high alert.

“We’re going to be looking for impairment throughout the weekend,” said Trooper Gabriel Moltrer, with Colorado State Patrol. “We are going to be looking for anything that shows impairment, from driving actions to when we get up to vehicles and seeing if we find impairment while talking with the driver as well.”

While cannabis has been legal in Colorado for about 10 years, driving while or after using it is not.

“There’s a lot of stigma to not drive drunk, but there’s not enough stigma about not consuming cannabis and driving. And that’s why you see some people, you know, toking up as they’re driving, and that’s a huge mistake. And that’s illegal,” Cole said.

‘Impairment is impairment’

The reason for the crackdown on cannabis, officials said, is because it affects the body similarly to alcohol.

“Impairment is impairment,” Cole said. “When it comes to cannabis, your reaction time is reduced, your ability to drive in just a straight line going down the road is reduced, you’re actually more likely to weave, and you have an impaired perception of time, distance and speed.”

CSP reported around 26% of drivers who were involved in serious or fatal crashes from 2019-21 had the psychoactive compound in cannabis, THC, in their system. And in 2022, CDOT said 101 deaths on the roadways involved someone who was impaired with cannabis.

“That is huge,” Cole said. “And that, although it’s not as big of a problem as alcohol, it’s still a huge problem.”

Similarly to alcohol, cannabis stays in the body for a long time — anywhere between six to eight hours. CSP said folks out celebrating 4/20 should treat cannabis just like they would alcohol and plan ahead.

“If you’re going over to anybody’s residence … see if you can stay the night. If you can’t, see if you can arrange a sober driver to pick you up, or even if you can get a Lyft or an Uber. Even if it seems like it might be expensive, if you get stopped and charged with a DUI, the prices of that can be $10,000 and up,” Moltrer said.

Cole said it could also mean something much more disastrous.

“Just call somebody to get you home safe,” Cole said. “The last thing you want is a DUI and the last thing you want is to get into a crash and take somebody’s life.”

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