What are the Colorado Marijuana Laws and DUI Penalties?

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colorado marijuana lawsIn 2012, Colorado successfully passed a popular initiative to amend the Constitution of the State of Colorado, outlining a statewide drug policy for cannabis. How do the Colorado marijuana laws effect DUIs, and what are the penalties for being pulled over while under its effects?

According to a year-long measurement by the Colorado State Patrol, one in eight citations issued for driving under the influence in 2014 involved marijuana use; or, more specifically, 674 citations out of 5,546 (12.2%) total issued involved marijuana use. For 354 of those citations– about 6.4 percent of the total, or one in every 16–marijuana was believed to be the only substance involved.

In Colorado, even a first-time DUI arrest involving marijuana carries serious penalties. The penalties for a DUI involving marijuana are the same as one involving alcohol. This can include:

First offense:

12 points against your license*

Up to one year in jail

License suspension (9 months)

Monetary Fines ($600 to $1,000)

Community Service (48-96 hours)


Second offense:

Imprisonment in the county jail for a mandatory minimum ten consecutive days but no more than one year

Monetary fines ($600 to $1,500)

Community Service (48-120 hours)

Period of probation of at least 2 years

License can be suspended up to a year


Third and subsequent offenses:

Imprisonment in the county jail for a mandatory minimum of 60 consecutive days but no more than one year

Mandatory participation in a court-ordered alcohol and drug driving safety education or treatment program

Monetary fines ($600-$1,500)

Community Service (48-120 hours)

Period of probation of at least 2 years

Licence can be revoked for up to two years

*Additional DUI convictions may result in increasingly serious consequences that may affect your ability to drive.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How does marijuana affect a person’s ability to safely drive?

Principally, you are incapable of judging the level of your impairment while under the effect of the drug. Any amount of marijuana consumption puts you at risk of driving impaired.

Is there a legal limit for marijuana impairment while operating a vehicle?

Colorado law specifies that drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI). However, no matter the level of THC, law enforcement officers base arrests on observed impairment, as well as the presence of open containers, the smell of weed, and other evidence that marijuana has been recently consumed.

Additionally, many officers in Colorado have received advanced training to detect impairment from alcohol and a variety of other drugs and substances. Colorado Law Enforcement Officers are trained in the detection of impairment caused by drugs. Many Colorado Law Enforcement Officer have received advanced training in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE). Across the state of Colorado law enforcement agencies have specially trained Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) on staff that can detect impairment from a variety of substances.

What if I use marijuana medicinally?

If a substance has impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle it is illegal for you to be driving, even if that substance is prescribed or legally acquired.

Are there additional penalties for marijuana-impaired driving if there are children in the vehicle?

Additional charges for impaired drivers include child abuse if children are present in the vehicle.

Is it legal to have marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia in the passenger cabin of the vehicle?

Colorado’s open container law makes it illegal to have marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle if it is in an open container, container with a broken seal, or if there is evidence marijuana has been consumed. It is also illegal to consume marijuana on any public roadway.

What if I refuse to take a blood test to detect THC?

Colorado revokes driving privileges for any individual who fails to cooperate with the chemical testing process requested by an officer during the investigation of an alcohol or drug-related DUI arrest. Any driver who refuses to take a blood test will immediately be considered a high-risk driver**. Consequences include:

Mandatory ignition interlock for two years

Level II alcohol education and therapy classes as specified by law (these penalties are administrative, and are applied regardless of a criminal conviction).

Are there stricter penalties for those individuals who are arrested driving under the influence of a combination of marijuana and alcohol or other drugs?

The penalties are the same regardless of the substance, or combination of substances. However, when combining substances, there is frequently a greater degree of impairment, which can significantly increases the chances of crashes, and thus, penalties and charges.

Relevant case studies since the initiative was passed:

Stanger v. Colorado Dept. of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Div., State of Colo.:  An arresting officer has the discretion to demand a driver to submit to tests in order to reveal the presence of drugs if driver is suspected of DUI-drug offense. The driver has no right to choose which test.

**Cox v. People: Since driver may have reason for refusing to submit to test that is unrelated to consciousness of guilt, inference of intoxication that is permissible from evidence of driver’s refusal to take blood or breath test is rebuttable.

Drake v. Colorado Dept. of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Div.: Generally, an arrested person has no right to consult with an attorney before taking a chemical test. If a defendant refuses to consent to testing before talking to an attorney, such behavior will generally be deemed a refusal.

Halter v. Department of Revenue of State of Colo., Motor Vehicle Div.: If an officer has probable cause to supported arrest and breath alcohol test, officer also may request that driver submit to drug test. If driver passes the breath test, drug use is a reasonable explanation for driver’s intoxication regardless of whether other evidence existed to support search for drugs.

Thomson v. People:  Standard of proof for DUI is “substantially under the influence,” rather than intoxication, which determines DUI to the “slightest degree”. The degree of intoxication must be substantial so as to render one incapable of safely operating a vehicle.