DENVER • Medical marijuana user Cyndy Kulp is most upset with a portion of the proposed stoned driving legislation that would allow drivers in vehicular homicide cases to argue they weren’t drunk despite exceeding the legal limit for alcohol.
“I thought it was supposed to be to establish a level for THC in the blood,” Kulp, of Colorado Springs, said. “It’s much broader than that. It changes the standards for drunk driving.”
HB114 would establish a legal limit for driving under the influence of marijuana. It sets the threshold for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, at 5 nanograms, similar to the .08 blood-alcohol content threshold for drunk driving.
But the bill also deals with legal defense terminology.
Under the legislation, drivers who exceed the 5 nanogram threshold would be able to argue in court that they are not impaired or unable to drive safely at the legal limit. The bill also extends that argument to drivers charged with vehicular manslaughter or assault after exceeding the .08 threshold for alcohol.
Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the author of the bill, said the change to the vehicular manslaughter and assault portion of the law comes from a request from the District Attorneys’ Council to comply with court precedent.
Waller said defendants in those cases must be able to argue they were not impaired, according to recent court rulings. Colorado law does not allow that legal defense, and if drivers exceed the threshold, they are considered guilty unless they can prove there was an error with the blood test.
“I’m opposed to drinking and driving, and I’m opposed to smoking and driving, too,” said Kulp, who uses marijuana for her arthritis and waits a couple of hours after consumption before driving.
“I do feel that the evidence for the impact of marijuana on driving is somewhat mixed and none of the studies have been able to say what THC nanogram level you should have to be considered impaired.”
Blood tests can screen for the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, which Waller said leaves the system within a few hours. Drug screening tests for employment and other matters can screen for other types of THC going back for several months.
Waller requested Thursday that his bill be delayed a week from being heard in committee because his toxicologist was not available to testify.
“We don’t anticipate there being any problems in committee,” Waller said. “But I’ve been wrong before.”
Contact Schrader: 719-286-0644