Many years ago, a close friend of mine in Boulder was killed by a teenage driver. It was said the kid was under the influence at the time of impact. It was not alcohol. It was marijuana. 

I know I’m harshing on Colorado’s mile high, but driving under the influence — including cannabis — is a serious issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. In 2018, the Colorado Department of Transportation conducted a survey that revealed “69 percent of cannabis consumers have driven under the influence of marijuana at least once in the past year — with 27 percent admitting they drive high almost daily.”

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

These are staggering numbers, yet even more mind boggling is that 10% of these users also believed that their driving performance was enhanced by the substance despite established data that clearly show a “direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.”

Rest assured I’m not going to use this column to slam the use of marijuana, only the use of any drug paired with driving. Despite the horrific and painful death of my friend, I have long favored decriminalization, record expungement, legalized banking, declassification from schedule one, increased medical research and more — and still do.

It might seem tough, but as someone who lives and works with data, I’m well aware that one data point does not override the overall data trends that fully support those positions, no matter how much it impacts me personally.

Most importantly, my friend valued these things, too.

What I will say, however, is that any substance that can impair cognition should never be marketed on license plates, no matter how good the cause. It’s cheap and highly insensitive to those of us who have lost loved ones to drivers under the influence.

In case you missed it, the trend of selling drug tropes on license plates to the highest bidder began when Gov. Jared Polis announced the “First Annual Colorado Disability Fund Committee: 420 Auction” in 2021. During the inaugural event, 14 marijuana-themed state-issued license plates were auctioned off to the public with proceeds going to the disability community. 

During that auction, some of the highest fetching license plates included, “BONG” for $3,890, “ISIT420” for $6,630 and “TEGRIDY” for $4,930, the latter apparently referring to a fictitious South Park dispensary. In total, the event was reported to have raised $45,410.

The follow-up event has since been launched on April 1 of this year with 22 new license plates going up for sale, including the ever-so-classy “BONGWTR,” “TOKER” and “BLUNT.” The auction doesn’t close until, you guessed it, April 20.

Now, I know that we live in an age where nuance is lost, but I hope that it’s possible for nuance to exist here because I assure you it is both possible to support a progressive cannabis community and to simultaneously find this auction, well, pathetic.

If nothing else, what does it say about us as a state that the only way we will kick in a few extra bucks to the disability community — another deeply personal cause — is to market weed? The state of Colorado has an annual budget of roughly $34.1 billion. Is under $50,000 really all that hard to find? 

There’s another side to this I cannot for the life of me make sense of. You probably can’t even talk about marijuana with a cop at a traffic stop without raising eyebrows, and the state is convincing people they want to pay a few thousand bucks to put “BONGWTR” on their license plate? Even if it’s not illegal, it sure seems like one heckuva red flag to something that might be.

I’m not the first to point out the extremely unfunny irony that mere days after announcing the return of this auction, CDOT announced new programs for officers to spot drivers under the influence. So which is it, Colorado? Are we marketing weed on the road or not?

Suffice it to say, I don’t agree with this program one bit. There have simply got to be better ways to raise funds for the disability community than slapping drug tropes on cars.

But hey, if you do want to bid on one, at least you can be sure your weed is working, ‘cause you’re definitely high if putting “BONGWTR” on your motor vehicle makes sense to you.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio