THC driving bill's real cost may be as high as $3 million, ex-judge says
A Senate committee has passed a THC driving bill considerably broader than one put on hold last year. Since then, there's been debate about how expensive the measure would be, with one report estimating the cost for the state's public defender's office at almost $600,000. But an attorney, former judge and marijuana advocate thinks the total price tag could be as much as five times higher.
"I'd be willing to say $3 million a year at absolute minimum," says Leonard Frieling. "And we often discover that the most crude of estimates is far more accurate than you would ever expect."
We first profiled Frieling last August. He's a member of LEAP: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, as well as a former municipal court judge for the City of Lafayette who quit his job in 2007 over marijuana policy.
These days, Frieling works as a lawyer and often represents clients charged with driving under the influence of drugs, a topic he discussed at length in a December post previewing a seminar on the subject. As such, he read with interest the Denver Post article linked above, which noted the state public defender's office estimate of almost $600,000 extra per year to defend drugged-driving cases under new rules that would establish a THC-impairment standard of five nanograms per milliliter of blood.
The science behind this number has been heavily questioned due to the way THC lingers in the system of users. Note that Westword medical marijuana critic William Breathes tested at nearly triple the proposed limit while sober last year. Moreover, the latest measure also imposes a zero-tolerance standard on all Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, including many prescription medications. Frieling believes all of these elements contribute to the overall cost of the bill.
"We need to include more than what it costs for public defenders," he says. "Think about it in terms of D.A. time: We pay for that. Court time: We pay for that. Trial time: We pay for that. And then there are the dollar demands on sick people who are appropriately prescribed medications and who are not impaired, or who are less impaired."
Page down to continue reading our interview with Leonard Frieling.