April 2, 2013
Colorado Representatives unanimously voted Tuesday to set a legal limit for driving while high – similar to the blood alcohol limit for drunk driving.
House Bill 1114 would set the limit for the psychoactive ingredient in pot at 5 nanograms of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol per milliliter of whole blood.
This is the third time House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, has attempted to pass a limit for driving while high, and he said it couldn’t have been done this year without a major compromise.
Driver’s who exceed the legal limit for alcohol - .08 blood alcohol content – are considered guilty on that evidence alone. Waller said his hope would be the same legal standard for marijuana as well, but a compromise was reached.
“The bill just simply says that the jury can infer that a person is under the influence of marijuana when their nanogram level is over 5 nanograms of delta-9 THC,” Waller said. “It’s time that we get serious about protecting Colorado citizens on Colorado roads.”
Active THC can be detected in a blood test, and leaves the system quicker than latent THC which is most often tested for in drug screening for employment or corrections.
That compromise allows drivers over the limit to argue in court that they are not impaired at the 5 nanogram level.
Jason Warf, a lobbyist with Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, said medical marijuana patients who use pot to manage chronic pain are frequently above the 5 nanogram limit but not impaired.
“We’re still heavily opposed to the bill on a scientific basis,” Warf said. Opponents of the measure say there’s no evidence that a person is impaired at 5 nanograms.
“Any legislation with a number is very irresponsible and really targets and hurts patients,” Warf said.
Rep. Joseph Salazar, D-Thornton, successfully amended the bill to prohibit police from using the fact that a person holds a red card – the document for approved medical marijuana users – as probable cause for a blood test.
Waller supported the amendments as well, but Warf called them a meaningless peace offer.
The bill also eliminates the automatic guilt for vehicular manslaughter and assault cases where the drive exceeds the legal limits for marijuana and alcohol. Waller said that change came from case law that said defendants in those must be permitted to present a full defense. He said it was a change recommended by the state’s district attorneys.
The bill will be considered this week on third reading in the House and then it will move onto the Senate for consideration where it has died the previous three attempts to pass it.
But Waller said that was before the compromise.
Contact Megan Schrader
HB1114: Sets the legal driving limit for marijuana at 5 nanograms of delta-9 THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and allows defendants to present evidence in court that they are not impaired at that level. Expands legal defenses for vehicular homicide and assault under the influence of alcohol as well.
Authors: Representatives Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora
Action: Passed House second reading
Next step: House final reading