Colorado’s innovative recreational marijuana laws are an exciting experiment in social policy that have captured the attention of the entire world. With great power comes great responsibility though, and law enforcement officials will be aggressively cracking down on illegal possession and drugged driving to make the rules clear as the drug becomes more prevalent. In order to better understand our state’s groundbreaking legislation, here are our answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions—especially in regards to drug-related driving offences.
First and foremost, the basic rules of legalized recreational marijuana drug use are:
• Coloradoans may only possess or purchase 1 ounce of marijuana at a time.
• Smoking, vaporizing, or consuming cannabis in public places (i.e., Red Rocks; Coors Field; 16th Street Mall; parking lots; or airports) is absolutely forbidden.
• Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal.
So, all Coloradoans can use marijuana for pleasure now?
Correct--to an extent. All legal residents of Colorado 21 years and older may possess, use, display, purchase, or transport 1 ounce (nearly 60 joints) or less of marijuana for recreational use. However, several cities and counties have passed their own amendments to make things such as marijuana growing facilities or retail pot shops illegal (here’s looking at you, Colorado Springs, Westminster, and Centennial!). [Our handy map details the laws in each county or city, so make sure you know what’s good in your ‘hood first - COMING SOON]. Similarly, your employer has the right to create his or her own policies regarding marijuana use amongst employees—even in the privacy of their own homes.
Since marijuana is legal in Colorado, petty drug offences aren’t that big a deal anymore, right?
This is a common misconception. The federal government still considers marijuana illegal, which means any evidence that you have partaken in or purchased the drug could affect your federal student loans, certain employment positions, and social benefits such as food stamps or public housing. Furthermore, drug offences will always show up on your background checks.
Is Big Brother tracking how much cannabis I purchase?
Not exactly. While they won’t record any personal information, all marijuana retail stores are required to position a security camera on the cash register to ensure safety and compliance with the laws.
I’m 21-years-old; could I share my weed with my 18-year-old brother?
No way. You cannot supply marijuana to anyone younger than 21—even if it’s free and not for monetary compensation. Also, the zero-tolerance law means individuals under 21 face an automatic loss of their license if they are found driving under the influence of marijuana.
Can I sell the weed I bought legally?
No. You may, however, gift someone over 21 up to 1 ounce of marijuana—as long as there’s no exchange of money involved.
If my college roommate visits me from Alabama, do all these laws apply to him as well?
Only if he has a government-issued Colorado ID. Non-residents may purchase up to ¼ an ounce of marijuana per transaction, whereas they may possess one full ounce at a time. Essentially, your friend could make four different purchases in one day, but that’s a gray issue where the consequences, or lack thereof, just aren’t explicit so far.
Is there a legal limit for how much weed I can have in my system and still drive?
The legal limit is 5 nanograms or less of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the active ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter in whole blood. This isn’t a great measurement because different strains of marijuana carry different potencies of THC; also, people metabolize the drug at far more diverse rates than alcohol. For this reason, you’ll likely never see a chart that tells you how many joints or brownies are too many to get behind the wheel.
How is the amount of marijuana in my body tested?
If they have a justifiable reason, law enforcement officials suspicious of drugged driving will request a blood draw. As this Westword article points out, these blood tests have not yet been refined and they do remain quite inaccurate. In this case, the reporter’s blood test showed that he was heavily stoned hours after he had last smoked anything. Other experts believe people build up a tolerance to the drug and they might still be sober at 5 nanograms. We urge you to highly consider refusing the blood test if the situation arises. If you do take the test, make sure you secure one of the blood samples to reaffirm the results independently later on.
You mean I won’t have to pee in a cup?
A urine test has no value when it comes to marijuana because traces of the drug may show up in your system long after you’re sober. A blood test is the only accurate indicator of active THC at the moment.
How long do the authorities have to conduct the blood test?
With alcohol, they must prove a person’s BAC (blood-alcohol content) is 0.08 or more within two hours of driving. They haven’t issued a defined time period for drug testing yet but, rest assured, it will be something “reasonable.”
Will I lose my license if I refuse the blood test?
Possibly. As with DUIs, you could lose your license for a year if you do refuse the blood test. Unlike drunk driving though, there won’t be any administrative penalties on your record; this is important because marijuana consumption continues to be banned at the federal level. Remember, however, that you can always politely decline to do the standardized field sobriety tests (walking in a straight line, reciting the alphabet backwards, etc.) without penalty.
Why should I refuse to take a standardized field sobriety test?
In short, there are special tests designed for assessing drug intoxication and not every police officer is trained in those quite yet. Law enforcement officials uneducated in marijuana recognition certainly won’t help your case as they don’t have the resources to make an accurate judgment of your sobriety.
Wait, so will I be arrested if I have any traces of marijuana in my body?
No, the mere presence of cannabis in your blood is not enough to arrest you. Furthermore, having 5 nanograms or more of marijuana in your system is not enough to automatically convict you of a DUID either; if you had a BAC of 0.08 or more, on the other hand, you would automatically be charged with drunk driving.
Everyone’s saying marijuana is safer than alcohol; what’s the danger in driving stoned?
Studies show marijuana consumption affects spatial perceptions, meaning drugged drivers have slower reaction times and tend to swerve or tailgate other vehicles more often. Think about those classic stoner movie scenes where the dudes are absolutely fascinated by the size of their hands; would you want them driving you down I-25?
I’m a medical-marijuana user; does this make me an easy target for DUID checks?
It shouldn’t. According to a Colorado bill, a person’s medical-marijuana status (i.e., a valid medical-marijuana registry ID) cannot be used as evidence of impairment or probable cause for a blood test.
Can I at least drive around with marijuana products?
As with alcohol, it is illegal to drive with an open container of marijuana; doing so will result in a traffic infraction that shows up on federal checks (as we explained earlier). The law applies to anything containing marijuana that is open or has a broken seal, or has partially-removed contents. We explored the issue in-depth here, but the best advice we can offer at this point is to keep it as far out of reach as possible. In fact, PUT IT IN THE TRUNK.
My car doesn’t have a trunk.
Okay, as with all rules, there are certain exceptions. If you drive an SUV or minivan, you may keep unsealed marijuana behind the last row of upright seats. Open marijuana is also allowed in the living quarters of trailers or motor homes.
Can I smoke/consume weed in the car if I’m not the driver?
No. People in the passenger area of a vehicle cannot use or consume marijuana, and the no open container law applies to them as well. While we’re at it, you also cannot smoke marijuana in a taxi or on public transportation. You may, however, smoke marijuana if you are in the rear of a privately-hired car (see: this CNN reporter).
As long as I buy the pot legally in Colorado, can I take it to other states?
Absolutely not--not even to Washington. Firstly, bear in mind that the TSA is a federal institution and that marijuana is banned at all airports, including DIA. You cannot fly with the drug, and actually, you cannot even leave marijuana in your car at the airport; that would count as illegal possession and be subject to a heavy fine. Secondly, our neighboring states are cracking down on those driving into their borders with weed purchased in Colorado. Wyoming, for example, won’t even recognize a Colorado-issued medical-marijuana card and will make arrests for illegal possession accordingly.
Is smoking pot on the ski slopes okay?
No, it isn’t. Not only is smoking marijuana banned in public places like restaurants and stadiums, it’s also expressly forbidden on any federal lands—which include a number of Colorado’s famed mountain resorts. Likewise, you won’t be able to smoke pot in your tent at Rocky Mountain National Park or while wandering around our national monuments either. Possession of marijuana on any federal lands is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
I heard I can grow my own marijuana plants; is that true?
It is true, just not easy. An individual may possess six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being in bloom at a time, for personal use. In Denver, a household of two or more adults may possess a combined twelve plants. If you can prove you grew the marijuana yourself, your personal allowance increases and you may legally possess 4 ounces; you are not permitted to sell the harvest to other consumers though. Some HOAs are beginning to ban marijuana cultivation, but there’s debate about whether they can legally do that or not; the issue ought to be settled in court in the near future.
Where can I learn more about Colorado’s marijuana policies?
DUI Defense Matters will do our best to update our own website in a timely fashion, but we recommend checking out The Cannabist, Colorado NORML, and Marijuana Info Denver (only applies to the City of Denver, obviously) for extended coverage on this issue.