Bill to punish stoned driving advances

Being too stoned to drive would join the state’s laws against being too drunk to drive under a bill that won preliminary approval Tuesday in the Colorado House.

Lawmakers said they thought it was high time to have such a law now that Colorado has 120,000 people with medical-marijuana cards.

Under the measure, motorists who have five nanograms per milliliter of blood of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or more would be considered too impaired to drive. THC is marijuana’s main hallucinogenic ingredient.

Because some medical-marijuana users complained that the science is so new, they argued that level was set too low. As a result, Rep. Claire Levy, the Boulder Democrat who introduced the measure with Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, unsuccessfully tried to raise it to eight nanograms.

“This is a recognition of the concern and uneasiness among the medical-marijuana users as to whether the science is really solid enough to say that five nanograms causes a person who is a regular user ... to have impaired driving,” she said. “There is a substantial body of research and science to support five nanograms as producing intoxication ... but the connection between that and impaired driving is a lot more tenuous.”

Waller disagreed, saying the science shows that an even lower level could be supported by the courts, but he decided to compromise at five. “The true experts came and testified, saying probably one or two was the right level, but five is something we could live with,” he said. “We have scientific data on five, and there’s nothing to support that eight is the right level.”

Under HB1261, motorists suspected of having a blood level of five nanograms of marijuana or more but refuse to be tested can be charged with DUI per se, which means their license can be revoked immediately.

Opponents to the measure argued that patients who constantly smoke marijuana have a higher tolerance of marijuana, but Waller said that’s not the THC the state is concerned about.

“They’re not going to be testing latent THC in your system, the stuff that stays in your system for a long time. They’re going to be testing the delta-9-THC,” Waller said. “The delta-9 typically spikes and drops off. The experts say that delta-9 probably will no longer be in your system after four hours. But it’s like drinking alcohol. It depends on the strength of the marijuana you ingest.”

The measure requires a final House vote, which could come as early as today, before heading to the Senate.


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