Standard still needed for driving while stoned

State Sen. Steve King has worked hard the past few years to develop better laws for determining when a driver is operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. But the Grand Junction Republican’s efforts were thwarted again when a Senate committee on Monday killed this year’s version of the bill.

That’s unfortunate, because law enforcement officials and prosecutors in the state need a quantifiable standard for proving that somebody is too stoned to drive, especially now that Coloradans have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Existing rules, under which authorities must use a driver’s behavior — erratic driving, red eyes, impaired speech or coordination — to prove he or she was stoned while driving, make it more difficult to obtain a conviction than blood-alcohol limits that legally determine when somebody is driving under the influence of alcohol.

King tried to remedy this, with the assistance of House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, by introducing a bill that would have established a minimum amount of THC allowed in the blood before one could be considered driving under the influence of marijuana. THC is the chemical in marijuana that makes one high. This year’s bill was watered down from past versions by changing the legal wording to allow defendants greater opportunity to rebut THC evidence that they were under the influence of marijuana.

Even so, King could not muster any vote but his own to support the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. And it’s not that opponents of the bill are unwilling to pass a law that would have hordes of newly legal marijuana users howling at them.

The problem is that, unlike blood-alcohol testing, the science of testing THC in the bloodstream, and determining how much an individual can sustain without being stoned, is in its infancy. Although some studies supported the level that King chose for his bill, others were less conclusive.

Additionally, remnants of THC can remain in the bloodstream far longer than alcohol does. So, it’s possible that someone who legally consumed marijuana last night might test positive for THC this morning under King’s bill, even though that individual was no longer stoned and his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle was not impaired.

Although marijuana use and driving under its influence have been around for a long time, nearly everyone expects both to increase with pot legalization in Colorado. We can only hope that the science related to determining when someone is under the influence of marijuana begins to catch up with the reality of marijuana use. Authorities still need a quantifiable standard to help them obtain convictions when marijuana is misused.

Meantime, we commend King for continuing to pursue this goal.


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