|Photo: Ed Andrieski/AP|
|Represenatives Claire Levy (D-Boulder), left, an d Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) go over notes on their marijuana DUI bill in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Denver, Colorado, February 18, 2011|
What constitutes driving while high? The medical marijuana boom in Colorado has led to a debate in the Legislature of driving while under the influence of pot.
Lawmakers are looking at setting a DUI blood-content threshold for marijuana that would make Colorado one of only three states with such a law, reports Ivan Moreno at The Associated Press. According to sponsor Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), it would be one of the most liberal.
Drivers who test positive for five nanograms or more of THC, a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, would be considered too impaired to drive under the proposal if the substance is present in their blood at the time they’re pulled over, or within two hours.
Levy admitted that medical marijuana advocates fear the law would restrict legitimate patients from using cannabis.
“What I’ve tried to assure the patient advocates is that we’re not talking about sobriety checkpoints, we’re not talking about dragnets and massive stops,” she claimed. “They’re not going to be stopped if they’re driving appropriately.”
It’s already against the law to drive while under the influence of drugs, but states have taken various approaches to the issue. Twelve states, including Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Rhode Island, have a zero-tolerance policy for driving with any amount of an illegal substance in one’s system, according to Anne Teigen, policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Minnesota has the same policy for everything except marijuana.
Nevada, which is among the 15 states that allow medical cannabis, and Ohio have a two-nanogram limit for THC while driving. Pennsylvania has a five-nanogram limit, but that’s a state Health Department guideline which can be introduced in driving violation cases, according to Teigen.
Don Christensen, the executive directeor of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, which supports the five-nanogram THC blood content benchmark, said he thinks it’s a “fair way” for law enforcement and the public to know how much marijuana you can consume and still be legally allowed to drive — just as there’s a limit with alcohol.
“I think it’s fair to tell them the rules to be played by,” Christensen said.
|Photo: Denver Westword|
|Sean McAllister, Cannabis Law Center: “My only concern is that, because medical marijuana is controversial, that we’re entering a new phase of not racial profiling but medical profiling”|
Groups including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) believe that marijuana DUIs are not based solely on the amount of THC found in someone’s system, but rather on the “totality of the case,” including how the person was driving and other observations an officer makes.
They point out that medical marijuana patients may have higher tolerance levels [PDF] which would allow them to safely drive, and that they would still have trace levels of THC long after they’ve used cannabis.
Some also worry that patients may be unfairly targeted.
“My only concern is that, because medical marijuana is controversial, that we’re entering a new phase of not racial profiling but medical profiling,” said Sean McAllister, an attorney at the Cannabis Law Center in Denver.
“We’re concerned the nanogram limit is too low because most medical marijuana patients are going to have higher levels in their bloodstream because of their continued use of medical cannabis,” said Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute in Colorado.
“I’m getting a lot of pushback, a lot of concern that this will hinder the ability of medical marijuana patients to make use of their medicine,” Rep. Levy admitted. “I’m very supportive of medicinal use of marijuana. You just can’t allow people to be driving when they’re high.”