From The Colorado Observer
The Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee advanced a bill to include marijuana under the state’s DUI law that currently sets legal limits for driving under the influence
of alcohol. The Senators listened to more than six hours of scientific, legal and personal testimony of proponents and opponents.
Senate Bill 117 would extend Colorado’s DUI “per se” limit for alcohol impairment to include marijuana. More than 5 nanograms of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter in blood is the legal threshold for “permissible inference that the defendant was driving under the influence of drugs.”
“The number of accidents has gone down. Yet fatal crashes with THC-impaired drivers have doubled in four years,” said Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction), sponsor of SB 117.
King co-sponsored a similar bill last year, but this year’s DUI bill criminalizes possession of a Schedule I controlled substance, such as LSD and heroin. If a driver is suspected of being impaired and tests confirm the presence of a Schedule II controlled substance, such as cocaine, codeine and oxycodone that is considered a permissible inference.
Critics argued that there are conflicting studies, that chronic users may show high THC levels even when they are not impaired, and medical marijuana users may be unjustly charged. Proponents countered that there are sufficient studies and drug-related traffic accidents support the need to address the issue.
And from The Denver Post
There's disagreement over whether a blood THC test is a fair gauge of whether a driver is impaired, but a Senate panel voted 4-1 to forward the measure to the full chamber.
Pot activists said they agree driving while high should remain illegal. But some vigorously object to blood testing as a measure of impairment. Because marijuana chemicals are stored in the body's fat, levels can build up over time in people who use pot often.
Scientists gave conflicting testimony Monday.
"Nobody in this audience wants to have drugged driving policies, (but) there is disagreement about per se limits in chronic users," said Dr. Paul Bregman, a Colorado physician who recommends marijuana.
However, lawmakers were swayed by conflicting testimony from Cindy Burbach, forensic toxicologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She told lawmakers that the agency is getting more requests from law enforcement for blood THC tests, from 8,600 requests in 2009 to nearly 10,400 last year.
"Five nanograms is more than fair," Burbach told senators. She said the department used a different THC screening procedure before 2009, making comparisons before then impossible.
The 5-nanogram limit still must clear the full Senate, where a similar measure was defeated last year amid bipartisan opposition. Then the measure would head to the Republican House, which approved a similar measure last year.
States that have set a legal limit for marijuana have taken different approaches.
Nevada, which allows marijuana use for medical purposes, and Ohio have a limit of 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter for driving. Pennsylvania has a 5-nanogram limit, but unlike Colorado's proposal, it's a state Health Department guideline, which can be introduced in driving violation cases. Twelve states, including Illinois, Arizona and Rhode Island, have a zero-tolerance policy for driving with any presence of an illegal substance.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, peak THC concentrations are present during the act of smoking and they generally fall to less than 5 nanograms within three hours.