Stoned driving bill advances
EAGLE COUNTY – State lawmakers say “it’s high time” for a marijuana motoring bill. The Colorado House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill that would establish a legal limit for driving after consuming marijuana.
“It’s high time we give law enforcement the tools they need to ensure the safety of our roads,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller. “We can’t kick this can down the road any longer.”
State lawmakers now have until the end of this year’s legislative session in May to come up with ways to regulate and tax marijuana. If they fail, marijuana will remain unregulated, under the terms of Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Eagle County’s two top law enforcement officials, Sheriff Joe Hoy and District Attorney Bruce Brown, say they’ll have to live with whatever lawmakers pass, but this version is not ideal.
In this year’s version of the bill, a defendant is permitted to argue that a blood THC level of five nanograms per milliliter or more did not impair him or her.
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The bill’s co-sponsor, state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said the law makes allowances for marijuana users who build up a tolerance for the drug and may be unimpaired with a blood THC level above five nanograms per milliliter.
“There are some people who argue they have a high tolerance for alcohol. It means nothing. Under the state statute, you either meet the standards or you don’t,” Hoy said. “We can’t have people driving around with just any amount of pot in their system, legal or not. If it’s going to impair you in any way, there have to be standards set forth under the state statute.”
Brown said he prefers an intoxication level that cannot be rebutted in court, similar to the blood alcohol level used in drunken driving cases – currently .08 percent.
“You can challenge that and tell the jury ‘It didn’t affect me that way’ with expert witnesses and other testimony,” Brown said. “That doesn’t make the motoring public safer.”
Unlike limits on blood alcohol content, however, under the bill a driver who reaches the five nanogram limit can argue in court that he or she is unimpaired at five nanograms because of their tolerance, size or other contributing factors.
Delta-9-THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that renders a driver impaired after consumption.
In 2011, 13 percent of Colorado’s fatal car crashes involved marijuana, Waller said.
The number of marijuana users in Colorado is expected to increase following last year’s approval Amendment 64, Waller said.
“This is a public safety issue,” he added. “It is never OK to get behind the wheel and put citizens’ lives at risk. This bill will make people think twice about doing that.”
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.
“This is about public safety,” Fields said. “The voters have told us with Amendment 64 that we have to come up with regulations to govern recreational marijuana use, but we certainly don’t want our streets full of stoned drivers endangering law-abiding citizens.”
This is the third consecutive year Waller has introduced legislation that would create limits for drivers under the influence of marijuana. Waller and Fields co-sponsored this year’s bill.