Colorado law enforcement switches message to safe pot use

AP News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2015 4:50 PM
Colorado law enforcement switches message to safe pot use

DENVER (AP) — Breaking from decades of "Just Say No"-type messaging about marijuana use, Colorado law enforcement officials are starting a new campaign designed to promote safe marijuana use.

The revised campaign starts this weekend, when tens of thousands are expected at public rallies and concerts in observation of the 4/20 marijuana holiday. A few things to know about the new effort, along with some backstory:

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GOING TO THE SOURCE

The Colorado Department of Transportation is taking its campaign to the demographic most likely to use pot and then drive, according to surveys. That's men aged 21 to 34.

The agency will be at cannabis festivals, concerts and celebrations this weekend. But instead of handing out warnings, they're handing out snacks branded with reminders to munch, not drive, after smoking pot.

The state Department of Transportation also installed free arcade games at dispensaries loaded with messages not to drive after smoking.

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NO ONE KNOWS EXACTLY HOW BAD THE PROBLEM IS

It's far from certain whether legalizing marijuana leads to more stoned drivers on the road. The data is so limited that both opponents and supporters of legalization are forced to make generalizations.

Colorado didn't track marijuana-related impaired driving arrests before the drug was made legal in 2012.

Twelve percent of DUIs issued statewide last year were for marijuana impairment, not alcohol or other drugs, according to the Colorado State Patrol. And of the 440 automobile fatalities in Colorado, 54 drivers tested positive for marijuana. (A positive result meant the driver had used marijuana recently, but not necessarily that they were driving while impaired. Pot can be detected by drug tests for weeks, whereas water-soluble alcohol dissipates in the blood within hours.)

Nationally, more drivers appear to be using marijuana and other drugs. In the nationwide 2013-14 Roadside Survey for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 8.6 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, THC. That was a 48 percent increase from 2007. State-by-state data was not available.

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WHY COLORADO IS CHANGING

Colorado safety campaigns launched last year to coincide with the beginning of recreational marijuana sales offended some marijuana users as condescending scare tactics.

Especially irritating to them was a public-health campaign aimed at minors. Using the tag line "Don't Be a Lab Rat," the campaign consisted of giant cages stationed outside schools and libraries. At least one school district refused to allow the installation, joining critics who said the campaign was reminiscent of Drug War-era "Just Say No" messages.

Colorado authorities have since scrapped the "lab rat" campaign and started a series of education ads thought to be the first pot-related government messages not to discourage using the drug. Instead, those ads tell marijuana users not to use the drug in public or take it out of state.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt.