|Photo: Fleet Alert|
|Advocates worry that Colorado’s proposed “driving while stoned” limit will unfairly affect medical marijuana patients|
Colorado could soon establish tough new measures to crack down on those who smoke marijuana and drive — and advocates are worried that the proposed limits will unfairly affect medical marijuana patients.
Under a proposal expected to be introduced early next year, the state would create a threshold for the amount of THC — the main psychoactive component in marijuana — that drivers are allowed to have in their blood, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post. Anyone who is stopped and tests above that limit would be considered to be driving while high.
Drivers suspected of being under the influence of marijuana or other drugs already have to submit to a blood test or face license suspension. But the proposed law would set a limit beyond which drivers would be presumed to be impaired by marijuana.
“It will bring some clarity to the issue of whether or not you are impaired under the influence of marijuana,” said state Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), who is likely to be one of the measure’s sponsors in the Legislature. “There isn’t a bright line right now.”
Colorado law already prohibits driving under the influence of drugs, but police said the law is vague on how they should prove that a suspect is high.
That, along with concerns that the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry could result in more impaired driving, led members of a subgroup of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to look at the issue, according to commission member Grayson Robinson, who is sheriff of Arapahoe County.
“It became clear to use that marijuana is an area that had not been given due consideration,” Robinson said.
The proposal sets the THC threshold at five nanograms per milliliter of blood, which Robinson claims research shows is indicative of impairment. Anyone over that threshold would be considered impaired, in the same way any driver with a blood-alcohol content more than 0.08 percent is considered too drunk to drive.
|Photo: McAllister Law Office, P.C.|
|Sean McAllister, a member of the commission, said he worries the proposal could unfairly affect medical marijuana patients|
However, the research doesn’t take into account the tolerance of frequent users, particularly medical marijuana patients, according to Sean McAllister, a lawyer who serves on the commission’s drug policy subgroup.
McAllister said he worries the proposal could unfairly affect medical marijuana patients, who may be able to have higher THC levels without impairment. But he said he advises patients to wait at least four hours before driving after using marijuana.
“No responsible advocate of legalization believes that people should be driving high,” McAllister said.
David Kaplan, Colorado’s former top public defender, said he is also concerned about the five-nanogram level and whether “there was a strong enough correlation on what impact it has on your driving behavior.”
But he still supports the process by which the commission came to its proposal, said Kaplan, who is the vice chairman of the commission.
While several states have zero-tolerance policies for drivers with THC in their blood, a handful, including Pennsylvania, have a five-nanogram limit for marijuana or its metabolites, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Marijuana advocates and law enforcement officers often disagree over the magnitude of the problem presented by stoned drivers.
The commission’s proposal will likely be turned into a draft bill and will be introduced in the Legislature during the early part of next year’s session, which starts in January.
“I think there’s a lot of support for that idea,” said state Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs), who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would likely be the first to vote on the proposal.