THC driving limits: Will pot critic William Breathes fail DUI blood test even when sober?

Mr. Breathes.
I guess you could classify me as a pretty heavy ganja smoker. To quote Zach Galifianakis, "Sometimes I smoke so much pot that I forget to smoke pot." Seriously though, I medicate at least twice a day and I'm fairly sure I have more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliters of blood in my body at any give time -- and that's the current limit in the proposed cannabis DUI bill.

Should the measure pass, and if my THC blood level is as high as I think it might be, I won't be able to travel around town without risking an arrest for driving under the influence... even on days when I'm not medicating.

On April 11, a Senate committee is slated to discuss HB1261, which would set impairment limits for driving under the influence of marijuana. The bill would allow up to 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Anything over that and a driver would be considered to be driving under the influence.

In theory, the notion of keeping high-as-a-kite drivers off the road is commendable. But is this proposal practical? The Cannabis Therapy Institute is concerned that the measure unfairly targets medical marijuana patients, who might have to submit to forced blood tests or give up their driver's licenses even if they aren't high at the time they're pulled over -- just because they have a red medical marijuana card in their pocket. If the law passes, worries attorney Rob Corry, "There'll be a drastic increase in the amount of people criminally prosecuted."

claire levy large photo.jpg
Claire Levy.
Then there's that 5 nanogram figure, which even Representative Claire Levy, the lawmaker who drafted the bill, admits is arbitrary. The bill would set THC limits much as they are for driving under the influence of alcohol, which is a standard .08 percent blood-alcohol limit. With booze, the general rule is that a person can metabolize about a drink an hour; drink more than that and your body starts to get drunk whether you have built up a tolerance to the effects of alcohol or not. Although the physical effects may vary depending on how big or small you are, and whether you're a man or woman, a couple of drinks in an hour will generally put your blood alcohol over the limit... and that alcohol will dissipate a few hours after you drink it.

Pot doesn't work that way. In short, when you smoke herb, you elevate your levels of active THC and that gets you high. But long after you smoke marijuana, the residual and inactive cannabanoids still linger in your system, binding to the fat cells in your body. So while you might not have smoked herb in as many as 28 days and are sober, for all intents and purposes, you could still register as having THC in your bloodstream. Beyond that, heavy users build up a tolerance over time, as well as a large amount of residual THC in their system. That puts medical marijuana patients who use a lot of ganja for pain in a tough spot. Even without medicating, they could be guilty of a DUI if this new bill passes.

To test just how high the THC level of a regularly medicating MMJ patient might be, Westword paid $300 to have my blood tested, twice, at Any Lab Test Now in Englewood -- the only place we could find that would do the test without a doctor's recommendation. The idea was to see just how much THC was in my system when I was sober, and how much it jumped after I medicated.

Breathes.Blood.JPG
I put out my final joint last Thursday night around 9 p.m., went to bed and woke up Friday morning without medicating, as I normally would to calm morning nausea and to kick-start my appetite. Around 2 p.m., I drove to the clinic in Englewood (sober as a preacher) to have blood drawn. I'd like to think that I'm sadly a pro at this by now, having spent a good part of the last decade in emergency rooms and hospitals, but the process of getting poked and my blood taken is never comfortable. My blood pressure was so high that it pushed the needle out of my arm before the nurse was finished, forcing her to ease it back in to get more blood.

After the nurses finished, I went off to burn some herb nearby (I take the Fifth as to where). I wanted to see how fast my THC level could jump, so I power-smoked through about a half-gram bowl of Triple Diesel (at least 18 percent THC) and two massive dabs of Skywalker OG hash oil (at least 80 percent THC) in under ten minutes. I let the meds kick in for another twenty minutes, then headed back to the clinic to see if my blood levels had gotten as high as I did.

Getting jabbed a second time wasn't as bad, and the nurses had a good time joking with me about how much more lucid I was the second time around. But I know I would not have been as calm if the blood tests were being forced upon me in some random police station after I was unfairly accused of driving fucked up.

Unfortunately, the results aren't instant: My THC-infused plasma had to be sent off to a lab. The nurses promised my results sometime in the first part of this week, but I'm still waiting -- wondering if they will justify my fears that I could be arrested even when I'm sober, just because, as a regular MMJ user, I have a high level of THC in my blood even when I'm not medicating.

As soon as we get the results, we'll share them with you.

Aside from being Westword's occasional science experiment, William Breathes is also our medical marijuana dispensary critic. Check out more from him over on our pot blog, Mile Highs and Lows.

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36 comments
Lineman
Lineman

Any word on the results?

Hermit
Hermit

If Chris and Claire are so damned concerned about public safety, they ought to test all of the cops for steroids. Denver has just fired 6 police officers for assaulting citizens and bystanders and lying about it. The one incident I observed on News 4 today had 6 officers involved, yet only two were dismissed after lying. I wonder if they would have kept their job if they came clean? Are these just another set of 'isolated incidents', or a tip of the ice-berg with many of these incidents not being caught on tape? Makes you wonder if cops should also have to wear web-cameras fed to sealed, off site computers only accessable to a citizen review panel.

Be that as it may, IMHO there is probably a significant number of our police that are abusing steriods and without a prescription, that is illegal and I think we're reaping the consequences of police officers abusing steriods and taking their roid rage aggression out on citizens. Testing all cops and other 'public servants', who enjoy to go to the gym like cops and including firefighters (like those in Estes Park who needed a private gym paid for with Homeland Security grants, the biggest cash grab ever) should be tested for steroids.

You can't look like a WWF wrestler without juicing and I've seen many officers now days who sport the bald (steriod hair loss?) look and are so musclebound they need tailoring on their uniforms, Many of them are angry all the time (roid rage?) Are we endangering the public when one of these juicing thugs is allowed to roam the streets with a badge and a gun?

Guest
Guest

This is the best system ever created to dissuade people from obtaining marijuana legally. The DOR has oversight of the DMV and has already indicated that they would be utilizing the DMV system to issue MMJ cards in the future once they have succeeded in seizing control from the CDPHE.

The ultimate plan appears to be to issue drivers license's with little pot leaves in the corner, just like that heart that indicates you are an organ donor. If you are pulled over the officer will immediately be made aware that you are a MMJ patient since our good friends Matt Cook and Dan Hartman have insisted that law enforcement officers need instant access to the MMJ Registry. As your drivers license is run you will immediately be flagged for a blood draw as your simple possession of an MMJ card indicates that you are a degenerate and should be harassed immediately.

Prepare to be thrown in the back of a police cruiser, detained indefinitely, have your blood drawn against your will and be sentenced all because Claire Levy is a bitch. Yep, it is awesome.

Hermit
Hermit

As your drivers license is run you will immediately be flagged for a blood draw as your simple possession of an MMJ card indicates that you are a degenerate and should be harassed immediately.

That looks like the path we are forced to travel due to the misguided and uninformed efforts of Ms. Levy and let's not forget Mr. Romer, who got this whole party started. I'm sure that when this all unfolds we'll hear of Ms. Levy holding both of her hands to the sides of her face in mock shock and horror at the 'unintended' consequences of her mindless, unscientific, unprincipled actions, playing to the tyranny of those who are afraid of people who are medicated on something other than big pharma. It is my hope that people like Ms. Levy, Mr. Romer and others like them are someday hoist upon their own petard of unintended consequences. I really want any of them to walk a mile in any of our shoes and tell us we are not sick or in serious chronic pain and gaming the system. If hell exists, it exists for people like these and I hope it is a reflection of all the pain they are putting people through with their criminalization of patients.

Matt in Boulder
Matt in Boulder

I can't take it any more! Let's see those results already! The suspense is killing me...

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

We're just as eager, Matt... but as of this posting, we still haven't heard. We hope to have an update from William soon, though.

LarryQ5
LarryQ5

It's interesting to find on the Any Lab Test Now website, they claim drug results in 10 min, and most results in 24-48 hours, and you are now past a week. What's really interesting is that their "cut off level" for marijuana is 50 ng/ml. They further state that a reading above 50 indicates positive, while under 50 indicates positive.. imho, someone does not want this Genie out of the bottle. How can the lawmakers even consider a law that says 5ng is positive when a nationally known and well respected agency claims that under 50 is a negative?

LarryQ5
LarryQ5

My bad...above 50 positive, under 50 negative.....

Guest
Guest

Will, Thanks for taking one (no two!) for the team. Will keep checking back to see your results. I'll bet you are over the "5ng-limit" on BOTH, but hopefully the lab will do credible & accurate work and get the results back soon.

Then if you ARE over both, (and I bet you are) the REAL story is getting this stupid proposed law thrown out.

William Breathes
William Breathes

Still waiting.... (the lab said originaly that my results would be back by Tuesday)

LarryQ5
LarryQ5

It kind of makes one wonder who is paying off who to delay the results.......

Will Breathes
Will Breathes

I highly doubt it was anything that nefarious. I'm thinking it had more to do with general ineptitude.

Henry
Henry

Come on, let's start a betting pool on what his level is going to be. Judging by his picture, I wouldn't put William any less than 10ng on the fasting test and no less than 42 ng on the test where he smoked just before the test. Anyone else wanna bet on WB's nanogram levels?

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Henry, we've been debating the numbers, too. We're hoping to get the official results soon, and when we do, William will be writing a followup.

Samuel Wells
Samuel Wells

This is a great experiment: thanks for being willing to get stuck for the cause.

This bill is not meant to make anyone safer: it is designed solely to harass and intimidate medical cannabis patients who will now be subject to intrusive blood testing any time they don't signal long enough before making a lane change.

Denver doesn't have a cannabis problem, it has a police problem. Our PD is full of rapists who arrest women just so they can force them into sex, part-time cage fighters who take pleasure in brutalizing young people and homophobes and bigots who see no problem with committing violence against homosexuals and children. Hell, even Aurora busted two DARE officers as child molesting pedophiles -- one even brought kiddie porn and a dildo to work, for chrissakes.

Not a peep from our elected "representatives" on all of this, of course. They are too busy making up lies about "Cap'n Chronic" and using fear as a tactic to get their names in the local news media. Chris Romer showed these opportunistic demagogues how to do it: every one of them is just piling on in a massive display of arrogance and hubris.

Getting involved with the MMJ movement in Colorado has been very enlightening and informative for me during the last few years -- I have learned a lot about the differences between what politicians say and how they act. I have been shocked at the monumental ignorance and incompetence on display at every level of government, from the asshats in the Denver City Council who kill dogs for no reason and spend tens of thousands of dollars on chamber council decorations during a recession, to the blowhards in the State Congress who have made careers exploiting the poor and marginalized, all the way up to Mr. Hopeandchange himself, who has allowed the raiding of dispensaries and continues to send innocent cannabis users to prison because they dared to use a naturally occurring herbal remedy to care for those they loved.

These "elected representatives" (with the exception of Mr. Polis, natch) would be more than happy to see every medical cannabis user in the state arrested and incarcerated in order to feed more cash into the police, prison and "treatment" industries. They can then brag they are "tough on crime"....after destroying lives and families. They are parasites and scumbags and should be tarred, feathered and run right the hell out of town.

Matt McLaughlin
Matt McLaughlin

Jump behind the wheel once you're > 5 nanograms and film your performance.

daninater
daninater

Your test results would be more stirring if you abstained for something like three weeks and still tested over the threshold of allowed THC in your bloodstream, especially to non-users. This is the risk I would face at my job if I smoked weed and was caught 21 days after the fact. As opposed to alcohol, where I'm basically clear after a full day.

But back to your test, I wouldn't want you to abstain from taking your medicine for such a long period of time because it would cause obvious health problems. Which makes you a bad candidate for not-smoking pot. I beg you please don't. I think you should re-write this article using a different Guinea Pig.

Will Breathes
Will Breathes

Dan,

This article isn't about losing your job three weeks after smoking some pot -- though that would suck.

This is about regular legal medical cannabis users possibly getting a felony DUI after using legal medicine, even though they may be sober, simply because it still lingered in their system. I don't see how abstaining from smoking for ~12 hours or two weeks makes a difference if I was sober when I was being tested.

Slester86
Slester86

I dont care if you have a med card or not this effects everyone. I do not claim to smoke for medicinal purpose, I smoke for recreational purpose. It still effects us all

daninater
daninater

Sober is sober, I concede. It is frustrating that weed never gets a fair run in the testing department, that's what it looks like to me in Colorado right now with HB1261. Cool article, it sparked a debate at work amongst my coworkers and proves a point.

Boulder Med Cannabis
Boulder Med Cannabis

this really is a great experiment. I'd love to see the results with a regular edibles patient, the next morning after a 9pm dose. or someone who vaporizes 10 times a day (and never gets 'high')

Slester86
Slester86

I got charged with a DUID in June of last year, I got pulled over coming back from a camping trip, and was hungover, the cop accused me of being high, and took me to the hospital for a blood test, I hadn't yet smoked that day, but I am a regular smoker, my blood results came back as .11 nano grams which indicates that .05 ngs is bullshit! I am taking it to trial and I am hoping that the jury will see this for it really is.

Boulder Med Cannabis
Boulder Med Cannabis

it feels like we're being set up, doesn't it?

Slester86
Slester86

yes it does, I feel that i was profiled by the CSP officer, what a joke, now I have alot riding on this, could go to jail for this cause i have a prior DUI

Kathleen Chippi
Kathleen Chippi

William,

Lets not forget to address:Did you crash on your way home?or get a ticket violation on your way home? or have any driving issues or problems as you drove home?

Will Breathes
Will Breathes

I gotta save something for the followup story, y'know ;)

Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

Good on Ya, Will.

We can stop this bill from becoming law on Monday if we all go down to the capitol and speak out to the Senate Judiciary Committee who is hearing this bill Monday 1:30. But check the day of they have switched up time and rooms before.

Also go to these representatives and senators public meetings and make marijuana an issue.

Here is a list I created of this weeks public meetings pass it out it only takes one person to make a public meeting about cannabis.

http://www.facebook.com/note.p...┬Če_id=10150154733468965

Jim
Jim

I'm glad the Westword is conducting this experiment and eagerly await the results.

Guest
Guest

Interesting .... Thanks for being a public guinea pig will. Look forward to seeing the results.

Maxmontrose
Maxmontrose

I testified this same exact truth at the hearing and learned something very important that most people don't know. What is the 5ng based off of?

The Colorado toxicologist in her testimony explained that this number and graph came from peer studies in other country's, and stated "that the usual THC% of those countrys was around 11%" where as in CO you can find 22% (she said 28). So the point is the test is off by 50% to the states law this effects. I talked to some MMJ lawyers about submitting my self to a police station or hospital and filming them drawing my blood at different hour intervals to show where my ng levels where at to prove that 5ng is absurd. I'd still do it for the sake of making this law not go through. By the way the entire council rejected the paper work i brought them from the US Department of Transportation's research study in Holland, paid for by the US GVMT proving stoned drivers where safer than sober. Here's a more resent study by the Brits. http://www.mapinc.org/newscc/v...

Andrew
Andrew

Awesome, I've been waiting to see some results like this.

Sadly, the results will mean nothing to the lawmakers. They don't care if their reckless and arbitrary legislation hurts patients unnecessarily and disproportionately with absolutely no proven over-shadowing benefit to society as a whole. They feel no shame about stepping on the necks of patients in order to fulfill their political ambitions. They don't care.

It's not enough for these lawmakers that so many patients are buried under medical problems, and high medical costs, they also want to bury them under legal problems, strip them of their right to drive, and limit their access to medicine.

Think of the impact this will have especially on patients who live in areas that have banned dispensaries. Already these patients have to drive well beyond their city or county boundaries to get their medicine. But if they get stopped and have more than 5 nanograms of THC in their blood, now they can't even drive. With as piss-poor as public transit is in this state to begin with, and even more piss-poor in areas outside of the Denver metro area, how the hell is someone in Grand Junction, Castle rock, Greeley, and elsewhere supposed to take a bus to a dispensary in Denver? Good luck!

Why don't these lawmakers just stop for 5 minutes and think about such things before plowing ahead with these unnecessary and punitive bills?

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