An addition technician takes the vitals of a patient on July 2 at the Arapahoe House in Aurora. Arapahoe House’s detox facilities have seen a spike in clients booked for driving while under the influence of marijuana. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | There’s one joint in Colorado people didn’t give much thought about when voters legalized marijuana in 2012: detox.

Local officials are beginning to pay attention now, since cops are turning over more stoned motorists to facilities such as Arapahoe House detox and treatment center. 

“We really didn’t think there would be an uptick,” said Arapahoe House President and CEO Arthur Schut. “In part because we saw a number of people who used illegally prior to legalization.”

Since legal marijuana sales started Jan. 1, Arapahoe House has seen a surge in the number of marijuana users booked into their detox facilities for driving under the influence despite overall DUI numbers remaining relatively flat. And Schut said staff are worried about a growing perception among the public that driving while stoned is safe. 

“Most people don’t want to hurt people, they just think they are OK to drive,” he said. “And lots of times they aren’t.”

Through May 31, 197 of the 6,102 people admitted to one of Arapahoe House’s three detox facilities told staff that they had been using marijuana when they were arrested. That’s up from the same period last year when 112 out of 6,060 admissions said they had used marijuana. 

The numbers mean about 15 percent of people admitted for DUI used marijuana, up from 8 percent last year. 

Kate Osmundson, a spokeswoman for Arapahoe House, said that in many cases, people arrested were using both marijuana and alcohol. Often in those cases, the patient might have been charged only with drinking and driving, she said, even though they later admitted to detox staff that they were stoned, too.

Aurora police have also seen an uptick in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana.

Lt. Jeff Turner, who commands the department’s traffic section, said through June 15, all DUI cases are up compared to last year, with 968 cases compared to 922 during the same period in 2013. Marijuana DUI cases are up, too, from 42 to 55.

Turner said that unlike alcohol cases — where police can quickly administer breath tests and standardized roadside tests — marijuana cases are trickier. 

“It’s harder to gather enough evidence to charge somebody,” he said. 

Officers look for smell, blood shot eyes and other outward signs, but Turner said those are often not as easy to spot as they are in alcohol-related cases.

Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said that while drivers getting behind the wheel after smoking pot is a serious issue, he isn’t sure the data on DUI cases really say much. The focus, he said, should be on traffic fatalities, not on the number of people arrested. 

“I don’t think that the Arapahoe House data lends itself to any conclusions,” he said. “It’s about enforcement, and that is contingent on resources devoted to enforcement.”

He said studies, including one from University of Colorado Denver, show that legalized medical marijuana actually leads to safer roads. That trend will likely continue with recreational pot, he said, because people will choose to stay home and smoke pot instead of driving to and from a bar. 

The CU study, which was published in 2011, said legal medical marijuana resulted in a nine-percent drop in traffic fatalities and a five-percent drop in beer sales.

But Schut said it’s important that drivers understand that marijuana is still a dangerous drug for drivers because it delays reaction times. 

“We’re worried that people have this perception that impairment due to marijuana is less severe than impairment due to alcohol,” he said. “But impairment is really impairment.”

For Arapahoe House, the uptick in clients booked into detox for marijuana presents some challenges. Unlike in alcohol cases, where clients aren’t allowed to leave detox until they blow 0.0 on a breath test, Schut said Arapahoe House doesn’t have a quick and easy test for marijuana. 

Instead, staff there has to rely on observations, checking to see if a patient’s eyes are watery and bloodshot and whether they are able to carry on a focused conversation. That can mean people booked into Arapahoe House after using marijuana can stay longer than patients booked for using alcohol. 

“There is not a lot of wisdom about this frankly,” he said. “And the federal government has not been enthusiastic about funding research for the last 100 years.”

9 replies on “ROLLING STONED: Detox officials see increase in drivers arrested for marijuana intoxication”

  1. These guys shouldn’t be released until they are at a THC level that they could legally drive on. A week in detox should teach them to not pot and drive.

      1. “muse” your self into being an a, hole OBVIOUSLY. A little sarcasm goes a long way, apparently way over your head. They force families to spend thousands of dollars, lose jobs, driving privilege without having a scientific test that actually tests impairment. To say a heavy user like yourself OBVIOUSLY deep into your imaginary “45 day” arena, shouldn’t be able to drive for a couple days after smoking, is wrong. (< they test for a different metabolite)

        If you smoke a joint a day after work you cannot drive without knowing if a cop wants to test you tomorrow or the day after, you get a DUI. You can drink a beer every day after work and not worry about driving to work days later. It's a farce to say the least.
        However, with edibles and extracts, some people shouldn't drive. There is such a thing as too high to drive. To say there isn't is a lie.

        1. You must be drinking now because you make so little sense you must be tipsy. Yep you can drink a 12 pack every night of the weekend be a raging alcoholic and get pulled over Monday after work and not blow numbers. You’re still a drunk. If you drink 1 beer a night after work are you an alcoholic. No. If you smoke 1 joint a night after work you will still test over the limit without being intoxicated or having any effect from the night before. So wtf exactly are you trying to say. You’re clueless. Research after you sober up and get back to me. Sigh at stupidity.

          1. Oh my goodness you’re a stupid person. You have no clue what test is being ran when people get a DUI. A workplace drug test can detect MJ up to 45 days. Not the DUI drug test, it tests a different metabolite they test for. I fully get that you are too stupid to understand the sarcasm in my first comment. My point is, it is not a fair test. I am not sure what “research” you’ve done, smoking a bowl and going for a drive I assume. Hopefully you can use the google and see that there are studies that show MJ overuse can result in accidents. Though the current tests that say you are DUI eligible for several days, even at minimal usage levels are a lie. It is just as much of lie to say people can eat and smoke as much THC as they want and still have no impairment to their driving. All joking aside I hope you’re not too stupid to read, so start with the norml org website, a pro-MJ site:

            “Effects on driving behavior are present up to an hour after smoking but do not continue for extended periods”

            People deserve a DUI when they overuse and get on the highway. I do NOT want impaired drivers on the highway driving 55 – 75 MPH. More importantly I do not want a guy going 15 MPH under the speed limit on the highway, since that is just as likely to cause an accident. My point was there should be a test to determine if a user is truly impaired. I.e. over used MJ within the past few hours. NOT casually used in the 3 days prior.

  2. I haven’t smoked in 48 hrs, guarantee 2 things: 1) I am in no way impaired and 2) I would fail the blood test. Roadside sobriety testing works because the legal limit is arbitrary. Arbitrary laws are stupid laws. Stupid laws appeal to stupid people. Taking each case on its own merits is the only choice.

  3. Neither, Arapahoe House or the Aurora Police Department are able to show real statistics of a ‘Problem’, OR, Even an Increase. What has been presented is skewed and very mis-leading. NO ONE should be Driving while Impaired! This being said, however, I, for, most probably the ONLY time in my Life, agree with Mike Elliott, let’s review accident statistics, and let’s distinguish between Marijuana ONLY, and DUI-Alcohol with admitted marijuana use, too. Let the TRUTH come out and let’s DeFUND, Repeal, remove, and END PROHIBITION!! The sheer expense of government perpetuating the LIE of ‘Reefer Madness’ is TOO EXPENSIVE!

  4. bullhonkey. WHEN IT STAYS IN YOUR SYSTEM FOR UP TO 45 DAYS AND IF YOU ARE A REGULAR USER, IT WILL, you will test over the moronic 5ng limit every ****blanking*** time – develop a test that shows actual, true impairment. Not just it sitting in my fat cells until the end of time like depleted uranium…. The WORST part of all of it is how STUPID this is. TESTS SHOW stoned drivers drive BETTER than sober drivers, multiple tests including testing done by the NTL insurance co’s. And other states have BANNED the 5ng limit because they are smart enough to know it does not work!!!!

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