Since recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2012, residents and tourists have enjoyed the freedom to use the drug. However, legalization is not without its limits, and when alcohol enters the mix, it can be far too easy to take things too far.
In this blog post I will explain the legal consequences when a Colorado resident drinks alcohol and smokes marijuana. I will review possible criminal charges and consequences including drunk driving and drugged driving charges. I will also provide best practices to enjoy these substances responsibly and within the limits of the law.
Recreational Marijuana is Legal, Within the Limits
Just because Colorado voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana doesn’t mean you can use it wherever and however much you want. There are many state laws and local regulations that limit how much you can posses, where use can buy or use the drug, and what you can do while high. For example, it is illegal to use or possess marijuana if:
• You are less than 21 (unless you are on the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry)
• You have more than 1 ounce of marijuana
• You use marijuana in a any public place (including smoking, eating, or vaping)
• You purchase your marijuana outside of a licensed dispensary
• You are carrying an open container of marijuana in your vehicle
There are also limits on who you can sell or give marijuana to. If you are found to have violated any of these limits, you may face criminal misdemeanor or even felony charges, depending on the circumstances, and the amount of marijuana involved.
Even when you are within Colorado’s limits for recreational marijuana use and possession, it is important to remember the drug is still illegal federally. That means that you cannot:
• Transport it across state lines
• Take it with you on an airplane
• Possess or use it on federal land (including national parks, forests, and ski slopes)
• Possess or use it if you are in the U.S. military
Remember that local cities and municipalities have the right to further limit recreational marijuana use. For example, in Denver, retail marijuana facilities must close at 7:00 p.m., rather than midnight. The Colorado Springs City Counsel voted against allowing any retail marijuana facilities at all. If you plan to light up, be sure you know the local limits that apply where you live or you could be facing ordinance violations, or worse.
Alcohol Use Has Its Limits, Too
As you read the limits placed on marijuana use, they may start to sound familiar. Many are based on the regulations and restrictions established for alcohol use over the years. Just like marijuana, it is illegal for minors to buy or use alcohol, or to drink in an unlicensed venue. It is also illegal to carry open containers of alcohol in your vehicle.
DUI Charges Can Come from Use of Alcohol, Marijuana, or Both
Colorado’s drunk and drugged driving laws make it illegal to use a vehicle when you have more than 0.08% alcohol by volume or 5 nanograms of active THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in your blood. It is also illegal to drive any time a substance, including medical marijuana, impairs your ability to drive. Testing for these drug and alcohol levels can often be done during a routine traffic stop if the police officer has reason to believe you are impaired.
The biggest problem with mixing recreational marijuana and alcohol, legally speaking, is that they can interact, causing you to become impaired and not realize it. Since many of the laws relating to alcohol and marijuana use are based on impairment, that means you could be running the risk of criminal charges and not even know it. Even if your blood alcohol content and THC count are both individually below the legal limit, you could still face charges for “Driving While Ability Impaired” (DWAI), if the combination of substances leaves you in an unsafe condition to drive.
How to Safely and Legally Enjoy Recreational Marijuana and Alcohol
If you are one of the many Colorado residents and visitors who choose to enjoy recreational marijuana and alcohol, here are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe, and out of jail:
• Don’t use around children (especially with them in the car)
• Use marijuana at home or in another private residence
• Only purchase alcohol or marijuana from licensed stores (including restaurants or bars for alcohol)
• Plan to stay where you are after getting high or drinking to give your body time to metabolize the substance
• Arrange for a ride from Uber, Lyft, or a friend to avoid DUI
Best of all, know your limits. Every person’s body handles alcohol and drugs differently, so know what your tolerance is and stay below your own limit. Remember that other drugs you are taking can affect your reaction to alcohol and marijuana as well. Even cough medicine could make it easier to go too far and become impaired.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorneys have experience with the Colorado courts and know what to expect when recreational marijuana and alcohol mix resulting in criminal charges. We are here to serve you from the initial arrest, to conviction, sentencing, and through any probation or parole challenges. We will help you understand how the laws work together, and identify your best way forward. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.