DENVER (AP/CBS4) – A stoned-driving debate that has divided Colorado lawmakers for years is poised to go down to the final hours in this year’s Legislature.
With just two days left to settle the question, senators voted Monday to continue the driving-high debate by rejecting an amendment to say drivers are too stoned if their blood contains 5 nanograms per milliliter of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC.
“This just like alcohol, don’t do it and drive,” said Sen. Steve King, R-Mesa County.
King knew it was the last chance to get a law in place for what is too high to drive. He pointed to numbers showing deadly accidents involving pot have gone up in Colorado more than 50 percent since medical marijuana was legalized.
“People are dying on our highways from people driving high, and it’s going up, and it’s going up significantly,” King said.
The vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon was at least the fifth time the Senate, or a Senate committee, has rejected the pot driving limit. It is already illegal to drive while impaired in Colorado, and opponents to the blood threshold say that officer observation should be the basis for stoned-driving cases. Many senators question whether a blood limit for marijuana, which is processed by the body differently than alcohol, is a fair measure of driving impairment.
“I just do not have enough information to make me feel comfortable on making a decision like that one,” said Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge.
Senators have resisted even direct pleas from the Democratic governor to stop fighting the blood standard. When a driving-high bill was rejected in another Senate committee earlier this year, Gov. John Hickenlooper took the unusual step to taking to Twitter to urge the blood standard’s approval. The only other state to legalize pot for recreational use, Washington, already has a voter-approved threshold of 5 nanograms.
The Colorado House planned to keep fighting for the limit. The House passed a bill Monday to revive the driving standard, forcing yet another showdown with the Senate.
Hickenlooper told CBS4’s Shaun Boyd he can’t imagine calling a special session if the bill fails, but he also said it is a very important part of pot regulation.
Driving rules for marijuana users were among several pot measures awaiting lawmakers in their final three days.
Another marijuana regulation bill that passed the House on Monday sets an open-container equivalent for marijuana and requires marijuana to face the same indoor air quality restrictions as tobacco. The House gave the bill final approval 62-3. It now awaits Hickenlooper’s signature.
Taxing the newly legal drug was another question to be worked out. Senators were mulling a pot tax rate greater than 25 percent, a 15 percent excise tax for school construction and a special 10 percent cannabis sales tax. Those would be in addition to local and statewide sales taxes. The 25 percent tax rate has already cleared the House and was headed to the Senate floor Monday afternoon in largely the same form.
Other regulations still awaiting resolution Monday included a first-in-the-nation attempt to treat marijuana magazines like pornography, forcing them behind the counter in stores that allow shoppers under 21. That provision, a last-minute amendment in the House, had High Times magazine contemplating a lawsuit if the requirement becomes law.
- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
CBS4 staff contributed to this report.
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