CDOT collects ideas in Vail Valley for campaign to curb driving high

Cannabis Conversation engages stakeholders, law enforcement and media to come up with solutions

Kent Larick, a budtender at Roots Rx in Edwards, and Fernando Almanza, a 911 dispatcher at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, discuss solutions to stop drivers from using marijuana while operating a vehicle.
Special to the Daliy

To participate

For information or to offer suggestions for a campaign to help curb driving high in Colorado, go to the Colorado Department of Transportation's site about the issue.


EAGLE — The dispensary owner pointed at the cops and said, “you need a test you can give that indicates someone is driving high.”

So when it comes to driving high, cops and cannabis people are on the same side … and that’s not yours if you insist on driving under the influence of marijuana.

Sam Cole, from the Colorado Department of Transportation, is traveling the state leading the Cannabis Conversation, collecting ideas and brainstorming ways to convince marijuana users that driving high is a bad idea.

The tour made its only stop in the mountains Wednesday afternoon for a workshop with nonprofits, local law enforcement and dispensary owners. It was a collaboration with the Eagle River Youth Coalition.

Suggestions, suggestions

Suggestions ranged from education (mandatory classes before teens can get their drivers licenses) to enforcement (automatic fines of 10% of an offender’s annual income).

Support Local Journalism

“We don’t want it to take more than 20 years for the facts to sink in, as it did with alcohol,” Cole said.

The public perception that tobacco use is unhealthy is a relatively recent phenomenon, Sam Aspnes with Communication Infrastructure Group Public Relations said. Similar campaigns could do the same for driving high.

A CDOT survey has collected more than 15,000 responses so far. The goal is to influence behavior in much less time than it took for drinking alcohol and driving.
Colorado Department of Transportation

“In a 2016 survey, 90% of marijuana users were aware that you could get a DUI for driving under the influence. But something is not clicking and people continue to drive high,” Cole said.

That 2016 survey found that 55% of marijuana users said that they believed it was safe to drive under the influence of marijuana, according to CDOT data.

In Colorado and Washington, 43% of marijuana users reported driving high in the past year.

What to do, what to say

As one person in Wednesday’s session suggested: “Ask marijuana users what would work.”

CDOT started doing exactly that with its traveling forum. The Cannabis Conversation looks to engage with stakeholders and the media, and CDOT has launched a survey that, so far, has more than 15,000 responses. The plan is to roll out a campaign next year, Cole said.

In Germany, a DUI costs 10% of your annual income, said Detective Aaron Veldheer, with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

“It doesn’t matter if you flip hamburgers for minimum wage or own a company,” Veldheer said.

Det. Aaron Veldheer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office talks about possible solutions to curb high driving at Wednesday’s Cannabis Conversation in Eagle.
Special to the Daliy

That 10% fine could help pay for the education programs, participants in Wednesday’s conversation suggested.

That suggestion received, by far, the most support from the four dozen people in the Garden Level classroom of the Eagle County Building in Eagle.

Other popular suggestions included:

  • Offender classes run by previous offenders
  • Education for families
  • A marijuana MythBusters class
  • Facts and solutions information distributed in hotels
  • Treatment, not punishment, for youth after a first offense
  • Revoking drivers licenses for a year — a much tougher punishment than the three-month suspension under current state law
  • A local dispensary owner suggested that parents search their kids’ cars and be involved and aware of what their children are doing
  • Make more public transit options available.

Hillary Higgins, with the Eagle River Youth Coalition, said that her organization will provide transportation during this year’s Bonfire Block Party in Eagle. Dispensary owners say that when they host an event, they provide free transportation home for people.

“Make it easy for people to not drive high,” Higgins said.

CDOT will use these suggestions and thousands of others as it crafts the campaign, Cole said.

Support Local Journalism