Trooper Carrie Jackson conducts a twelve-step DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) test on instructor Cpl. Michael Carr, right, during a role-playing exercise at the Colorado State Patrol Training Academy in Golden on March 6, 2014. Twenty CSP officers graduated from the nine-day training program for identifying drug use. (Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

Cannabist Q&A: DUIs and THC impairment; topicals for pain; work drug tests

Welcome to our Ask The Cannabist column. Clearly you have questions about marijuana, be it a legal concern, a health curiosity, a Colorado-centric inquiry or something more far-reaching. Check out our expansive, 64-question Colorado marijuana FAQ first, and if you’re still curious, email your question to Ask The Cannabist at

Hey, Cannabist!
I think CDOT and CSP missed the boat on the launch of their new DUI program. There was no education about how much time someone should wait after smoking or does someone’s size and weight affect someone’s tolerance, or food. They picked 5 nanograms of THC in someone’s blood and consider that under the influence. Shouldn’t everyone understand what that means? Or perhaps when they finally understand, they will share it. –Mustang Sally

Hey, Mustang Sally!
Good question, indeed. The Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol started a campaign to raise awareness of the marijuana DUI law earlier this year and they did not include how to be responsible with the new measurement for impairment. The ads explain it’s against the law to drive impaired.

So, what exactly does 5 nanograms mean? I asked Mark Salley, communications director for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. He pointed me to the state’s official marijuana website.    According to the section on driving:

People under the influence of marijuana should not drive or operate machinery because marijuana use affects:
Reaction time; short-term memory; hand-eye coordination; concentration; and perception of time and distance
People often state that they feel that they are “safer” drivers while stoned since they drive more slowly. However, research shows that consuming marijuana and driving doubles your risk of a fatal crash.

Similar to alcohol, there is an established impairment level for marijuana in Colorado. By law, Coloradans with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter of whole blood are considered to be driving impaired.

And checking CDOT’s page on marijuana and driving yields an eerily similar answer:

Q: Is there a legal limit for marijuana impairment while operating a vehicle?
A: 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.

All righty, 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of whole blood means legally impaired in Colorado. Got it.

What’s needed next is the practical application of information in a chart similar to the Blood Alcohol Content formula that factors gender, weight and the number and types of alcoholic drinks per hour.

When the 5 nanogram impairment bill was passed into law in May 2013, it received harsh criticism from cannabis advocates for being an unrealistically low threshold of impairment. The point should be public safety on the roads, not ensuring police revenue from new marijuana charges.

Bottom line: More studies are needed. XO

More Cannabist Q&A: Been pulled over by police? Know your rights

Hey, Cannabist!
I am a 67-year-old marijuana virgin living in Colorado. I experience chronic severe arthritis pain and would like to explore the possibilities presented by medical marijuana. I would like to address the pain while limiting the “getting high” aspects of use. I would appreciate your advice to include what to consider along with where to and how to purchase the marijuana. –Old Marijuana Virgin

Hey, Marijuana Virgin!
Respected Denver medical marijuana doctor Dr. Alan Shackelford says, “Topically applied marijuana extracts have been found to be extremely effective for the treatment of pain, and do not exert any psychoactivity whatsoever.” Medical marijuana lotions, salves and topicals are a good place to start for finding relief from chronic severe pain without getting the “high” feeling.

First, talk to a trusted healthcare professional or your doctor about your needs for your arthritis pain management and get a recommendation to use medical marijuana. Once you have a state-issued medical marijuana patient registry card,  you are able to purchase topical products made by licensed marijuana-infused product (MIP) manufacturers in Colorado.

Next, do some online research. The Cannabist’s dispensary and recreational shop map is helpful place to find a few medical marijuana centers in your part of town. Call around to several centers and ask about the available topicals on the menu and you’ll get a better sense of what is available and which place you’d like to visit. Before going to a center, ask for a recommended time to visit, so you won’t feel rushed through the experience. I hope you feel better soon! XO

Employment in pot industry: Workers for one of Colorado’s biggest marijuana businesses can be fired for smoking pot on the job or using cocaine at any time.

Hey, Cannabist!
After researching, I decided to relocate to Colorado. I read newspapers and viewed Youtube. I loved the weather, people and employment. Now I’m here and am a user of legal cannabis. I find I can’t get a job because of drug testing. I have 35+ years’ experience in casino work, but can’t get a job because of legal cannabis. I even tried U-Haul and they want to drug test. I’m confused. –Broke in Broomfield

Hey, Broke!
Amendment 64 states an employer doesn’t need to accommodate marijuana use in the workplace. So, (employment law hasn’t changed much with Amendment 64. In fact, a workplace survey earlier this year revealed increased drug testing since Amendment 64 became law in 2012.

This may be confusing because the amendment removed the criminal penalties for marijuana possession and allowed recreational sales for adults. Legalization hasn’t fully addressed the related problems of marijuana prohibition, and employment drug testing is one of them.

In the Colorado courts, medical marijuana employment cases have clearly shown the legal precedence of federal law.   The federal definition for marijuana trumps the state constitutional marijuana law.  As it stands, the federal definition for marijuana lists it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.  Any law — including employment laws — that makes a reference to controlled substances or the federal schedule automatically refers to marijuana by this definition, even in sunny Colorado.

Best wishes. XO