DENVER, CO — A state senator in Colorado has said he will introduce a bill to the state legislature that will make it easier for prosecutors to convict offenders for driving under the influence of cannabis.
State Senator Steve King said Friday that he is writing a proposal that would set limits for how much THC a driver could have in their blood before they would be “driving high.”
“I think it’s time we cleared the smoke out of this,” King, a Republican, told the Denver Post. “If you drive high, it’s against the law, it puts people’s lives at risk and you should deal with the consequences of making that bad decision.”
Since last year, a commission has been reviewing the state’s marijuana policies to deliver recommendations to Colorado’s Drug Policy Task Force in order to determine a legal THC impairment limit while driving. The commission was formed after a similar “stoned driving law”, House Bill 1261, was defeated last April. The bill proposed a legal impairment limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in an effort to solidify marijuana-related DUI laws.
Colorado’s House of Representatives approved the bill, but it lost traction in the Senate Judiciary Committee due to concerns that the 5 nanogram limit was too strict due to the lingering presence of THC after a patient is sober. Essentially, trace amounts of THC can show up in a person’s blood even though they are no longer impaired. The lack of evidence linking a specific blood content to marijuana impairment was an important factor.
State Senator Morgan Caroll, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that any such law would face challenges, because there is no conclusive research to determine a level of THC at which everyone is impaired. Frequent users and medical marijuana patients likely have THC in their bodies at all times, even when they are not impaired.
Senator Caroll has suggested that a zero-tolerance limit could be considered, but that would force medical marijuana patients to choose between driving or their chosen medicine. “That is not a choice we have forced other people with other medications to face,” she said.
Under Colorado law, drivers are prohibited from operating motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The legislature has made distinctions between the two offenses (DUI, driving under the influence, and DWAI, driving while alcohol impaired), but a driver is presumed to have committed either offense if blood or breath tests show a blood alcohol level of .08 or above.
For alcohol related offenses, such tests are prominently used. But for marijuana related offenses, no test or standard has been established to determine when a driver is legally impaired.
Presently, no immediate chemical tests are available to measure a driver’s level of impairment. Law enforcement has to rely on special training to recognize objective signs of recent marijuana use. However, many officers are not drug recognition experts, and may misinterpret signs of intoxication. As such, objective recognition standards will likely be part of the recommendations delivered to the Drug Policy Task Force.