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Colorado Launches Campaign To Stop Stoned Driving

DENVER (AP/CBS4) - 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 State Patrol troopers are training each other in how to spot a marijuana-impaired driver. The officers are trained to first rule out alcohol and medical conditions then focus on the drug impairment.

"A lot of times you can't smell the drugs, but the physical indicators as far as body temperature, as fat as your heart rate, as far as your blood pressure; all of those are affected by each drug individually," Trooper Darin Rodriguez told CBS4.

RELATED: Colorado Law Enforcement Gets Special Training To Spot Stoned Drivers

At the end of the class there will be 212 drug recognition experts within various police agencies statewide. The goal is to have 300 Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) trained by the end of next year.

"I know everyone is here to talk about marijuana, but this class also teaches them how to recognize seven categories of drugs that impair driving, and cannabis is just one of those drugs," Lt. Col. Brenda Leffler with the Colorado State Patrol said.

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 state, 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.

Of those, 720 had levels high enough to lead to an automatic drugged driving conviction, though Washington officials say there's been no corresponding jump in car accidents.

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."

"We know now that programs such as 'Drive High, Get a DUI' will save lives," said Andrew Freedman, Director of Marijuana Coordination with the governor's office.

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.

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

Associated Press Writer Gene Johnson in Seattle and CBS4 staff contributed to this report.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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