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Colorado Launches Campaign to Curb Stoned Driving

 / Updated 
Image:  A rescue team works to extract Lukas Myers
A rescue team works to extract a boy from a car struck head-on by a driver who had smoked marijuana a short time before in Colorado.Colorado Highway Patrol

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DENVER — Colorado is spending $1 million on television ads making fun of marijuana users who space out during everyday tasks — an effort to stop stoned driving.

The Colorado Department of Transportation unveiled the "Drive High, Get a DUI" campaign Thursday, the state's first effort since marijuana was legalized in 2012 to remind drivers that pot should be treated like alcohol and not used before driving.

One ad shows a spaced-out basketball player at the foul line in a playground, endlessly dribbling while his teammates wait in frustration. Another ad shows a middle-aged man who hangs a flat-screen TV and celebrates with some tortilla chips and salsa, only to see the TV crash to the floor and shatter.

The funniest ad shows a backyard griller earnestly trying to turn on his gas grill. After many futile attempts, a woman on the back deck rolls her eyes. The propane tank is missing. "Grilling high is now legal. Driving to get the propane you forgot isn't," the ad concludes.

"Enforcement is very important when it comes to impaired driving, but education is equally important," said Bob Ticer, police chief in Avon and chairman of Colorado's Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving.

The effort from the Colorado Department of Transportation comes as Colorado struggles to keep accurate statewide records on marijuana-impaired drivers. The Colorado State Patrol just started keeping track in January, when retails sales began and the State Patrol recorded 31 marijuana-impaired drivers, out of 61 total drivers impaired by any drugs or alcohol.

Before that, Colorado cases were charged under the same law as drunk-driving cases, making statewide tallies on stoned driving problematic.

Colorado once tallied marijuana tests sent to the state toxicology lab, but that lab closed last year amid allegations its supervisor advocated for prosecutions. Samples were then rerouted to private labs, which say data are too incomplete to determine marijuana-impaired driving statistics compared to previous years.

Washington, the only other state that has legalized recreational pot, saw more than 1,300 drivers test positive for marijuana last year — that's almost 25 percent more than in 2012.

Colorado's $1 million ad campaign, which begins March 10, comes from a federal grant from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

A Spanish-language ad campaign is launching next week, too. Those ads show a man blowing smoke and the message, "When you use marijuana, don't drive."

Pot dispensary owners helped develop the Colorado ads and plan to voluntarily hand out brochures and hang "Drive High, Get a DUI" posters.

"We recognize our duty to be a part of the DUID conversation," said Elan Nelson, a dispensary worker who is vice chairwoman of the state's Medical Marijuana Industry Group.

— The Associated Press

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