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Today the Colorado Department of Transportation will unveil its new ad campaign to deter drivers from getting behind the wheel while under the influence of marijuana.
The “Drive High, Get a DUI,” campaign will incorporate television ads, YouTube pre-roll ads, posters in marijuana dispensaries and FAQ literature at rental car dealerships and community organizations.
Law enforcement officers have received training on how to identify a “high” driver as part of the Drug Recognition Experts.
Glenn Davis, highway safety manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the new campaign.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.
Drive high, get a DUI. That's the slogan for Colorado's new ad campaign, which will be unveiled later today, hoping to keep drivers under the influence of legal marijuana from getting behind the wheel. This has long been an issue for law enforcement. Glenn Davis is highway safety manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation. He's been training officers in the Drug Recognition Experts program to identify people driving stoned. Glenn, so, drunk driving, measured by breathalyzer. Is there a way of measuring how stoned someone is?
GLENN DAVIS: Hi. Yes, there is a way, and that's done through a blood test. And our state has set a nanogram level of five nanograms to be the level of impairment. But law enforcement doesn't arrest people, in this state, on nanogram levels or even on breathalyzer results. They arrest people based on the behaviors they exhibit while they're driving.
YOUNG: OK. So what are people being trained to look for?
DAVIS: People - officers are being looked at the entire arrest sequence, like: What is the traffic offense? How did the person pull the car over? And the main thing where they start - the manifestations start to occur that the officer can say, hey, I got something more here than alcohol, is during a personal contact with that person. What indicia of impairment are they exhibiting?
YOUNG: Well, so help us with that, because marijuana has an odor. We hear that one of the things they might look for is that people might actually drive slower than they might if they were impaired by alcohol. So tell us more about - details about what they'd look like with people using marijuana.
DAVIS: Sure. Well, you know, we're out to get all impaired drivers off the roadway, no matter what they're impaired by, or if it's a combination of things. And, you know, it's really difficult to say that a person who drives under the influence of marijuana drives slow or commits a traffic offense or another type. It's really difficult to say. The main thing is that they commit some type of traffic offense and then, during the course of contact, the officer sees that there's some type of impairment.
YOUNG: Right. So are they treating this any different than alcohol impairment, in effect?
DAVIS: Is the marijuana impairment any different?
DAVIS: Well, marijuana and different drugs, you know, may manifest different outward signs and symptoms in someone. But the thing is if marijuana's an impairing substance, alcohol is an impairing substance, (unintelligible) that if a person is impaired, Colorado law enforcement will find them and then get them off the roadway.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, there's been some criticism, or some concern - let's put it that way - that, as you mentioned, there's a blood test, but no device that you can take into the field. And there's been concern that patrol officer - this takes patrol officers off the road, because they have to take individuals in to be tested for marijuana intoxication, and then it might take them off the street too long.
DAVIS: You know, that's a legitimate concern. But law enforcement in this state is able to make the determination of impairment, even without a device. Like, the breath device is nice and it's handy, but law enforcement was making arrests on impaired people long before those were available. And there are still some officers that don't rely on them, because what the person is arrested for is their manifestations, and also their performance on the roadside.
YOUNG: Right. So it's...
DAVIS: And then if - I'm sorry.
YOUNG: No, go ahead. Yup.
DAVIS: And if there is a reason to arrest them, then, yes, they are taken to a station, and a chemical test is done.
YOUNG: Well, the...
DAVIS: But before that happens, they're screened.
YOUNG: Well, the ads are going to have some humor. They're going to take a neutral stance on smoking marijuana. It's all about the driving while impaired. They're going to be on TV and YouTube starting March 10th. If you could create one, you have a few seconds here, if there's one line you could put on a poster to warn people off driving while stoned, what would you say?
DAVIS: I actually like what CDOT is putting together, is the drive high, DUI. It's not a judgment about a person's choice to use marijuana, but if that choice is made to drive high, that person will get a DUI.
DAVIS: I'm happy with our campaign.
YOUNG: Glen Davis, the highway safety manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
DAVIS: Thank you so much for having us.
YOUNG: And that campaign starts March 10th. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.