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Things that may surprise you about Colorado's DUI laws and drugs

Just because the drug is legal, doesn't mean that it's legal to drive under its influence. Many Coloradoans have heard the state's "Drive high, get a DUI" campaign. They know that, even though marijuana is legal in our state, driving under its influence is not. What they don't know is that driving under the influence of some legally-prescribed medications is also illegal. These medications - things like Xanax, Vicodin or OxyContin - can impair your motor coordination, even if you are taking the recommended dose and have a legitimate prescription. A doctor's prescription for these drugs or for medical marijuana is not a defense to a DUI charge.

If you have a driver's license, you've already consented to a test (legally speaking). Like many other states, Colorado recognizes something called "implied consent." The state views driving as a privilege and says that driver's licenses are given on the condition that drivers will submit to chemical tests if they have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Does this mean that you can never refuse a blood, breath or urine test? It's complicated. Refusal carries with it serious consequences and can be used against you in court, but people still do it all the time. If you refuse to provide a chemical sample for testing, you can lose your driving privileges from one to three years. When your license is reinstated, you may also be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on your car, to attend a class and carry special insurance.

Test results aren't always accurate. After much debate, the state legislature set a 5-nanogram limit for driving under the influence of marijuana. Under our state's laws, there is a presumption that anyone who is driving with five nanograms or more of the THC metabolite in his or her bloodstream is driving under the influence.

With such specific limits set and the consequences so high, it is critical that tests be 100 percent accurate. Still, they are often not. Tests are supposed to be given within two hours of the traffic stop, but they might not be. Skilled defense attorneys also check to see if the person taking a sample was properly trained and certified. They make sure that there was a proper chain of custody for your sample - meaning that the sample was accounted for and that it wasn't accidentally switched with another sample. Many defense lawyers also retest blood samples for accuracy.

Long story short: Colorado's drunk driving laws take drugged driving seriously, and working with an attorney who pays close attention to the details is critical. It may be too late to prevent an arrest, but it's not too late to educate yourself and get legal help, if necessary.

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