Colorado Marijuana DUI Bill AdvancesBy Scott Gacek | The Daily Chronic February 29, 2012
DENVER, CO – A bill to establish THC driving under the influence standards was approved by a Colorado Senate committee Monday by a vote of 4-1. The measure, sponsored by Senator Steve King (R-Grand Junction), says drivers would be considered “impaired” if they test positive for 5 nanograms or more of THC.
Senate Bill 117 won approval in the Senate State, Veteran and Military Affairs Committee by a vote of 4-1 after a nearly 7-hour hearing. The bill also creates a zero-tolerance standard for numerous other drugs.
The bill now moves on to the full Senate for discussion. If approved, the measure would then head to the Republican-dominated House.
A similar bill died last year after legislators raised questions about the scientific data, or lack thereof, to show that the 5 nanogram blood test was an effective measure of impairment. Representative Claire Levy (D-Boulder) sponsored last year’s bill, and later decided this standard was too strict, and suggesting that an 8 nanogram limit be substituted. The House approved the 5 nanogram limit, but the bill died in the Senate amid bipartisan opposition.
“The privilege of smoking marijuana should stop at the vehicle door,” said Sen. King, citing several fatal traffic crashes where drivers tested positive for marijuana or other drugs. ”How many dead is the number that will cause us to act?” he asked.
Marijuana reform activists agree that driving while high should remain illegal, but object to blood testing as a measure of impairment.Unlike alcohol, THC can linger in the blood for days after consumption and levels can build up in a regular user.
Current Colorado law says drivers can’t be impaired by marijuana while driving, but does not set a specific THC limit. States that have set a legal limit for marijuana have taken different approaches.
Nevada, which allows medical marijuana, and Ohio have a limit of 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter for driving. Pennsylvania has a 5-nanogram limit, but unlike Colorado’s proposed legislation, it’s a state Health Department guideline, but can be introduced in DUI. Twelve states, including Illinois, Arizona and Rhode Island, have a zero-tolerance policy for driving with any presence of an illegal substance.
Washington state’s Initiative 502, the legalization measure slated for November’s ballot, has come under fire from members of the medical marijuana community for including a 5 nanogram DUI provision. I-502 does not change the fact that officers must still have probable cause for an arrest and reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired before requiring a blood test.
Also on Monday, Colorado election officials certified Amendment 64, which would legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol, for the November ballot.
by Scott Gacek
A long time marijuana reform activist from Boston, Scott Gacek served on the Board of Directors of MassCann, the Massachusetts state NORML chapter, from 2009-2011. In July 2013, Scott assumed the role of Editor in Chief of The Daily Chronic.