DENVER (AP/CBS4) – It’s been a long, strange trip for marijuana driving limits in Colorado. But a bill up for its first hearing Tuesday could clear the state’s cloud of confusion over determining whether someone is too stoned to drive.
The bill that on Tuesday was approved by the House Judiciary Committee would set a blood-level limit for marijuana similar to existing blood-alcohol standards. It’s already illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, but sponsors say a numerical blood limit is needed now that Colorado is one of only two states that allow adults over 21 to use pot.
“Is it safe to drive while you’re stoned?” asked Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields, one of the bill’s sponsors.
No one argued Tuesday that stoned driving is safe. But driving-high proposals have failed three times in Colorado because of concerns that blood tests aren’t a fair way to tell whether someone is too high to get behind the wheel. Marijuana activists who thronged the Capitol argued that blood THC limits don’t accurately indicate impairment, and that Colorado should stick with its current reliance on officer observation that someone is stoned.
Other driving-high bills have failed not because of marijuana activists but because of unrelated legislative hurly-burly. One attempt failed because lawmakers ran out of time to debate it. Another failed when a single former senator who supported the driving limit was away on vacation.
The pot-legalization measure approved by voters last year did not address a driving limit. The version approved by Washington voters said drivers are too stoned if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
That 5 nanogram standard is in Colorado’s proposal. The other bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Mark Waller, argued that even though pot is now in Colorado’s constitution, a driving limit is needed.
“You do not have a constitutional right … to get on Colorado roads and put citizens’ lives in jeopardy,” Waller argued.
A separate marijuana regulation task force has already heard an earful from people who find a THC driving limit unnecessary.
“Our highways are moving along like they did before cannabis became legal,” Centennial resident Steve MacGregor told regulators. “The world has not come to a stop.”
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson also testified in favor of the bill.
“I personally support this bill as an elected official,” Robinson said. “I support it as a traveling motorist and a grandfather. I want my granddaughters to be safe.”
Critics say a law will lead to a lot of drivers who simply smell like pot being hauled in and given blood tests unnecessarily.
Gov. John Hickenlooper says he supports the bill.
Statement From House Republicans Communications Director Justin Miller
The House Judiciary Committee gave their approval to House Bill 1114 today, which establishes limits for people driving under the influence of marijuana. The bipartisan measure is sponsored by House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. This is the third consecutive year Waller has introduced legislation that would create limits for drivers under the influence of marijuana.
“We can’t kick this can down the road any longer,” Waller said. “It’s high time we give law enforcement the tools they need to ensure the safety of our roads.”
Similar to blood alcohol limits for drunk drivers, under HB 1114, a driver in Colorado will be considered under the influence of marijuana if five or more nanograms of delta-9-THC is present in a milliliter of whole blood. Delta-9-THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that renders a driver impaired after consumption.
Unlike limits on blood alcohol content, however, a driver who reaches the five nanogram limit can argue in court that he or she is unimpaired at five nanograms because of their tolerance, size or other contributing factor. This “permissive inference” helps address the concerns of medical marijuana users who are chronically above five nanograms but function as if they were sober.
In 2011 alone, 13 percent of deadly crashes in Colorado involved marijuana. The number of marijuana users in Colorado is also expected to increase after voters legalized the recreational use of cannabis last November. As such, lawmakers in Colorado have felt a growing sense of urgency to create a standard that determines when a person may be impaired by the use of marijuana.
“This is a public safety issue,” Waller added. “It is never ok to get behind the wheel and put citizens’ lives at risk. This bill will make people think twice about doing that.”
House Bill 1114 passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and now moves to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
LINK: House Bill 1114
By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 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.)