|Photo: Denver Westword|
|Westword pot critic William Breathes tested nearly three times over the proposed legal limit — while completely sober|
The Colorado Senate voted on Monday night to kill HB 1261, the marijuana DUI bill, in its entirety, scoring a huge victory for the medical cannabis community.
In a crucial vote, lawmakers rejected a limit on the amount of THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — that drivers are allowed to have in their systems above which they would be considered too high to drive, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post.
The Senate sided with medical marijuana advocates, who urged more study of the proposal, since THC lingers in the system and many patients would, in effect, be banned from legally driving.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Claire Levy, would have established a driving-under-the-influence level of five nanograms per milliliter of blood, reports Michael Roberts at Denver Westword. During House debate, Levy tried to change that number to eight nanograms, but her amendment failed.
Emblematic of the problem with a 5-ng (or an 8-ng) limit is the blood test of Westword cannabis critic William Breathes, who was tested while completely sober. Breathes’s reading while sober was approximately 13.5 nanograms.
Earlier on Monday, the bill had seemed sure to pass. Law enforcement, predictably, was heavily lobbying in favor of the bill, Sen. Morgan Carroll said in a Monday interview. Sen. Carroll said he didn’t think the Democrats had the votes to kill the bill, according to Denver Westword.
The death of the bill did not come easy, and its last minutes were filled with high-stakes political drama, as law enforcement lobbyists scrambled to snatch up last-minute votes on the Senate floor, according to the Cannabis Therapy Institute.
On the first attempt to vote on the bill, it was laid over until the Fiscal Note could be presented. This gave the law enforcement lobbyists more time The Fiscal Note was retrieved less than an hour later, and the Senate attempted another vote on the bill.
On a voice vote, they voted to insert the study recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee back into the bill, and rejected the five-nanogram THC DUI rule.
This amazing reversal of the language was surprising even to the Senate Chair, who said “the Chair is in doubt” as to which side won in the voice vote. The Senate Chair then asked the members against HB 1261 to stand.
The Chair then pronounced, “More than 18 having arisen, HB 1261 fails.”
About 15 minutes later, there was a last ditch attempt by Senators Boyd and King to revive the bill by an amendment from the Committee of the Whole to reverse the vote that just happened. This time, the Chair called for a roll vote. The Senate voted 20 to 15 not to revive HB 1261.
The bill is now dead, and cannot be revived any more this session, in any form.
“This is a huge victory for patients, who fought to uphold their rights with hundreds of letters and phone calls,” said Laura Kriho, spokesperson for the Cannabis Therapy Institute, which led the fight against HB 1261.
Kriho credited Corey Donahue, of a group called “Crazy For Justice,” for helping kill the bill.
“Corey spent the whole day down at the Capitol today trying to educate the Senators,” Kriho said. “His effort was an enormous help. The Senate got pressure from everywhere. Thanks to all those who helped in this effort!”