Colorado Revisits Marijuana DUI Standard

DENVER (AP) – The hazy debate over driving while high is back before Colorado lawmakers as a Senate committee voted Monday to endorse a proposal setting a scientific standard for determining whether drivers are impaired by marijuana.

The bill says drivers would be considered impaired if they test positive for 5 nanograms or more of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, per milliliter of blood. There’s disagreement over whether a blood THC test is a fair gauge of whether a driver is impaired, but a Senate panel voted 4-1 to forward the measure to the full chamber.

“The privilege of smoking marijuana should stop at the vehicle door,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Steve King, of Grand Junction.

Pot activists said they agree driving while high should remain illegal. But some vigorously object to blood testing as a measure of impairment. Because marijuana chemicals are stored in the body’s fat, levels can build up over time in people who use pot often.

Scientists gave conflicting testimony Monday.

“Nobody in this audience wants to have drugged driving policies, (but) there is disagreement about per se limits in chronic users,” said Dr. Paul Bregman, a Colorado physician who recommends marijuana.

However, lawmakers were swayed by conflicting testimony from Cindy Burbach, forensic toxicologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She told lawmakers that the agency is getting more requests from law enforcement for blood THC tests, from 8,600 requests in 2009 to nearly 10,400 last year.

“Five nanograms is more than fair,” Burbach told senators. She said the department used a different THC screening procedure before 2009, making comparisons before then impossible.

Also persuasive to lawmakers were arguments from law enforcement that even if the science isn’t conclusive, cops would be aided by a clear standard rather than relying on perceptions of impairment.

“I wish I had a nickel for everybody I arrested for DUI that said they weren’t impaired,” said John Jackson, Greenwood Village police chief who testified on behalf of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.

The 5-nanogram limit still must clear the full Senate, where a similar measure was defeated last year amid bipartisan opposition. Then the measure would head to the Republican House, which approved a similar measure last year.

States that have set a legal limit for marijuana have taken different approaches.

Nevada, which allows marijuana use for medical purposes, and Ohio have a limit of 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter for driving. Pennsylvania has a 5-nanogram limit, but unlike Colorado’s proposal, it’s a state Health Department guideline, which can be introduced in driving violation cases. Twelve states, including Illinois, Arizona and Rhode Island, have a zero-tolerance policy for driving with any presence of an illegal substance.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, peak THC concentrations are present during the act of smoking and they generally fall to less than 5 nanograms within three hours.

“I am not inclined to wait any longer” on a blood THC limit, said Democratic Sen. Betty Boyd of Lakewood.

Monday’s vote brought chants of “shame, shame” from a handful of pot activists in the crowd. They vowed to continue fighting the proposal when it heads next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

A legislative analysis released Monday estimated the pot DUI bill would cost more than half a million dollars next year to implement, requiring the bill to also be approved by the spending committee.

LINK: Senate Bill 117

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • 2pacalypse

    maybe, just maybe if the federal government would allow actual testing of marijuana instead of keeping its giant head in its giant…. ok “10,000 officers” advocate for A solution. This solution?? 10,000 officers vs ONE DOCTOR who knows what nanograms are. From my UNEDUCATED point of view its obvious that marijuana affects people differently depending on weight, strain of marijuana, how the marijuana was used. which is why the EDUCATED folks came up with a one size fits all solution.
    please, in honor of my aunt who passed away in agony, agony that was lessened by illegal marijuana, which she had no access to the day she died, test every single person pulled over “and suspected to be on any medication”….aka 70% of people over 40 for tylenol and advil as well. Oh and please only sell tylenol and advil in certain stores so the police know who to target (after paying the state a fee and waiting for approval, for the right not to be in pain)

  • 2pacalypse

    It has been proven to kill cancer cells, in humans. And it grows in the ground. Whoever made it illegal and enforces that rule seriously belongs in prison

    just provide a medication, with side effects no worse than “the munchies”, which is actually a good thing for some sick people, and that will not be linked to one way of killing us or another. Tylenol linked to liver problems? wow that’s the shock of a lifetime. And Tylenol is the one drug every doctor recommends for minor problems, three Tylenol PM and you are driving way worse than some marijuana, depending on your weight and tolerance, as well as the strength of both tylenol dosage or marijuana. Quit treating marijuana like it is something other than what it is, and that is a therapeutic herb grown from the ground that can be ingested in many ways, including through a pipe as “dope smoke”.

    If I’m in so much pain I need medication, I am in so much pain it hurts to drive because it hurts ME to turn my head and look for on coming traffic, it hurts every time I go over a bump, that makes it very unsafe for me to drive. I also cannot afford to lose the livelihood I earn with my car going to work.. On bad days, even though my medication helps me (I prefer the kind which has no “high” or sleepy effect) I cannot go do what I need to in fear of a DUI, where as if I wouldn’t have used the medication I would be putting everyone in danger of me having a muscle spasm while driving or not being able to be the alert driver I need to be because the pain is taking half of my attention away.

    The federal government agrees with the statement on their synthetic THC that driving should not be done until the effects of the drug are known. That is the warning for an extremely potent version of anything being sold in any dispensary.

    People who are not in pain have all of this energy to put into making sure the sick people stay sick, in fear the weak will become the strong I guess. Just kick me while I’m down why don’t ya? Please? ok one more time… right in the….

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