A bill establishing a THC blood limit for drivers, after first having appeared to die on the Colorado Senate floor, was called back and passed by a single vote Tuesday afternoon.
The bill, which would establish a per se cannabis “impairment” limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (no correlation has been shown between this level and actual impairment) now heads to the Republican-controlled House, where its passage appears likely, reports Michael Roberts at Denver Westword.
Senator Morgan Carroll had said back in January that she feared Sen. Steve King’s retry of the cannabis driving bill would be difficult to stop this time around, due to a tricky maneuver that avoided her committee. Then, the measure appeared to die on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, before being resurrected, called back for a second vote, and passing by a single vote.
SB 112-117 passed on an 18-17 vote.
Opponents of the “impairment” measure question the usefulness of the standard, in part because THC lingers in the systems of users (since it matches the body’s own endocannabinoids, THC isn’t seen as a toxin by the body, but rather as an ally).
Medical marijuana patient and Westword reviewer William Breathes registered at nearly triple the 5 ng/ml limit when completely unimpaired and sober during a test last year. Such evidence resulted in the original bill being shelved last year, for more study.
|National College for DUI Defense, Inc|
|Attorney and former judge Leonard Frieling: “Why are they wasting time with this again? It’s just incredible.”|
Sen. Carroll reminded her colleagues of some of those issues in what Breathes described as an impassioned plea for legal sanity. She argued that the 5-nanogram limit is too low for many medical marijuana patients who must use large doses to control their symptoms.
“One might think we are debating whether people can drive high in Colorado or not,” Carroll said. “I’m pretty sure the vote would be 35 to zero if that were the case, but it’s not. There is no question that some people at that 5-nanogram level would be impaired. But the problem is that there are also folks at that level who aren’t impaired.”
“Why is it they think they are smarter than the guys who looked at this last year?” wondered attorney and former judge Leonard Frieling. “Why are they wasting time with this again? It’s just incredible.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Steve King, speaking in favor of the bill, quoted bogus statistics concerning the number of drivers found with THC in their system. But the stats don’t specify whether the drivers in question registered under or over 5 ng/ml, or if the THC in their blood was active — crucial in establishing actual impairment, as pointed out by Breathes.
Colrado “doesn’t need this at all, because the current law works,” Frieling said. “And if they really want to focus on the five, they can state it as a rebuttable presumption. Take the ‘per se’ words out of it. That would agree better with the science, which shows that at five, some people may be impaired, but some people are not.
“The correlation between blood alcohol and impaired driving, as I understand the science, is pretty clear,” Frieling said. “The higher the number, the worse you drive. But that appears not to hold true as cleanly with cannabis. So talking about impaired driving is one thing, but trying to give a number a meaning it doesn’t have is something else entirely.
“We took a very long look at this last year — looked at it very carefully,” Frieling said. “And the ultimate conclusion was, ‘We are not going to pass this.’ What’s changed?”