Drugged-driving measure is making lawmakers dizzy

Legislature to consider marijuana limits

DENVER – Marijuana-driving standards are becoming routine debates around the Colorado Capitol, with a drugged-driving bill headed to the state Legislature for the third time in the last two years.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said it’s “common sense” to have blood-level marijuana limits for drivers as an analogy to existing blood-alcohol limits. Hickenlooper added a marijuana-limit driving standard to a special session to begin Monday to address civil unions for same-sex couples.

The marijuana-driving bill has stumped Colorado lawmakers before, and it may do so again. Marijuana activists who decry the proposed blood limit as unfair and a bad predictor of driver impairment say they’re going to renew efforts to stop the bill.

The measure would set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, per milliliter of blood. It’s already illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana or any drug, but police say a nanogram limit would help law enforcement by setting a testable blood level to go along with officer observations about whether a driver is impaired. State toxicologists have said the 5 nanogram limit is more than fair as a standard for impairment.

But some marijuana activists point out that pot, unlike alcohol, is stored in body fat, so blood THC limits can remain elevated in some patients when they’re not high. They say the blood limit sets a standard that could be unfairly applied, and they’ve packed legislative hearing rooms testifying against the plan.

Last year, lawmakers couldn’t agree on a blood limit. Instead, they sent the question to a task force, but it couldn’t decide on a fair standard, either. The measure returned to the Legislature this year. It passed the Democratic Senate, where it failed last year, and was headed for approval in the Republican House.

But the marijuana measure fell victim to a late-night standoff over a civil-unions measure also pending in the House, killing it for the year.

Marijuana activists rejoiced – until Hickenlooper announced Thursday that marijuana DUI standards would be added to the special session call.

The governor said that the standards make sense, comparing drugged driving to drinking and driving.

“Why on Earth would Hickenlooper choose this bill as one that has to be an emergency right now?” asked Jackie Edwards, a 59-year-old medical-marijuana patient in Englewood who suffers from fibromyalgia and lung cancer and has testified against the driving standard.

Edwards calls it unnecessary: “I know when not to drive,” she said.

Hickenlooper pointed out that it’s currently illegal for drivers to have any amount of THC in their blood, and that the controversy is overblown.

“Right now there is no tolerance, right? If you have any THC, you shouldn’t be driving. So why not set a standard where we really think that ability is impaired?” he said.

A lawmaker who opposes the measure also downplayed the prospect for noisy debate over it. House Democratic Leader Mark Ferrandino said the marijuana DUI standard simply fell victim to a political meltdown over civil unions.

“It was moving through the process. It was likely to pass,” he said of the marijuana bill.

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