Marijuana DUI bill should be passed now
Now that marijuana has been legalized in Colorado for recreational as well as medicinal use — and the key legislative sponsors of a bill to set legal limits for driving while under the influence of the drug have agreed to a somewhat less potent version of their bill — there can be little excuse for the Colorado Legislature not to adopt the measure this year.
Grand Junction state Sen. Steve King has been the primary sponsor of legislation the past two years that would have set a definite limit for how much THC — the substance in marijuana that makes one high — a driver may legally have in the bloodstream before being determined to be driving under the influence of marijuana.
His bill nearly passed in the waning days of the legislative session last year. It died, along with a handful of other bills, in a last-minute fight over legislation to allow civil unions for gay couples.
But that was before Colorado voters in November approved a constitutional amendment to legalize small amounts of marijuana for indivduals’ recreational use. King argues, reasonably enough, that the bill is even more important now.
It will no longer be just a relatively small number of medical marijuana users who will have legal access to marijuana, but many more recreational users, King noted. And substantial numbers of those recreational users may drive while under the influence.
Even so, King and his cosponsor, new House Minority Leader Mark Waller, have watered down last year’s bill in an effort to win more legislative support this year.
Last year’s bill said that if one had 5 nanograms or more of active THC per milliliter of blood while driving a vehicle, he or she would be legally presumed to be driving under the influence of marijuana.
Although some studies have suggested that amount of THC in the bloodstream affects most people’s ability to function normally, critics of King’s bill said there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support that limit.
So this year’s version of the bill would still use the 5 nanograms standard, but it wouldn’t be a hard-and-fast presumption of driving under the influence, as the blood-alcohol limit is for driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead, expert witnesses could be called during a trial to challenge whether the driver was truly under the influence of pot at the time of his or her arrest.
Like King, we would prefer to see a per se limit such as is used for alcohol. But we also understand that the science related to measuring marijuana intoxication is relatively new, compared to that for alcohol.
Even in its watered-down version, the King-Waller bill would put recreational marijuana users on notice that the state is serious about stopping people from driving while high.
The Legislature should pass the marijuana DUI bill quickly in the upcoming legislative session.