Colorado Senate kills restriction on driving under influence of THC

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 11:57 am | More from The Colorado Independent

The Colorado Senate killed a bill that would have established a legal limit in Colorado to the amount of THC drivers can have in their system. Lawmakers on the right and left who voted against the bill felt they were attempting to make policy without adequate information. House Bill 1261, sponsored in the Senate by Grand Junction Republican Steve King, died  20 nays to 15 ayes.

Sens King and Lakewood Democrat Betty Boyd argued in favor of an Appropriations Committee’s decision to reinstate the bill’s original language, which created a THC limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. That move failed to satisfy. The Senate chose instead to vote on a version based on a Judiciary Committee report that said the science was not yet strong enough to support imposing a nanogram limits on marijuana users. They then voted the bill down.

“Some on the Senate Judiciary members got bamboozled by marijuana users who don’t want to see any limits,” King said.

King said a 5 nanogram limit, which would have been the highest in the country, would have worked to make the roads safer.

Originally sponsored in the House by Reps. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Claire Levy, D-Boulder, the bill brought marijuana advocates into the political arena again this year. Pot advocates feared the limit would intrude on medical treatment without being based on evidence that 5 nanograms of marijuana in the blood stream actually works to impair drivers. They saw the law as arbitrarily forcing the issue.

They said patients who regularly use marijuana can have a blood level of 5 nanograms many hours after they use the drug and long after any THC high has faded. King said the bill’s limit was based on the advice of state law enforcement agencies and studies used in the report of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ).

Senator Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said that, although she didn’t feel anyone should be driving impaired, she felt voting a shortcut DUI limit into the statutes was a mistake. She said it would be best to wait untill better studies had been conducted.

Republicans including Sens Shawn Mitchel, R-Broomfield, and Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, essentially agreed.

Lubdberg said he had learned that medical marijuana was not like alcohol and that marijuana remained much longer in the system. He said lawmakers might be impeding on patient rights unnecessarily.

“To say that you can use [marijuana] but you can not drive ever—we have to be very careful when we go down that road,” Lundberg said.

Pot patient advocates said there have been cases where users walk around with 40 nanograms in their blood stream and that 25 nanograms would be a better range limit to impose.

King said he remains committed to establishing a THC driving limit and plans to bring legislation on the topic again next session.

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