THC driving bill's passage followed by NORML action alert
Yesterday afternoon, the Colorado Senate approved Senator Steve King's THC driving bill by an 18-17 vote thanks to the support of Senator Nancy Spence, who'd recommended additional study for a similar measure that fell short of passage last year. Now, the proposal is headed to the Colorado House, and NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is hoping to stop its progress via an action alert on view below. Here's NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre's take.
Allen St. Pierre.
"The bill is trying to criminalize such a large portion of the drivers in Colorado who may have active metabolites in their system," St. Pierre says. "And even though we're very deferential toward public safety at NORML, this change in law will likely not enhance public safety."
As we've reported, the bill, shorthanded as SB 117, would establish a per se THC impairment limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, with "per se" establishing the sort of bright line that translates to instant guilt in the eyes of the law. Opponents raise questions about the usefulness of the standard, in part because of the proclivity of THC to linger in the system of users. For example, medical marijuana reviewer William Breathes registered at nearly triple that level when sober during a test last year.
Such evidence led to the original bill being shelved in lieu of further analysis, only to be revived by Senator Steve King. His version originally established an impairment standard regarding Schedule I and II drugs, but that section was stripped out last week due to their high cost of implementation. And while the arguments for and against the measure didn't change much from one year to the next, the results did, as a result of Spence's switch.
St. Pierre isn't overtly critical of the manner in which the issue has been debated in these parts over the past year-plus. "Both reformers and government officials have been part of the process," he allows. "And having a 5 nanogram limit is better than a per se zero standard, which some states have."
Moreover, he understands the appeal of the legislation. "In some ways, it's an easy political compromise using a lexicon we're familiar with, which is comparing it to alcohol. Mason and company" -- a reference to activist Mason Tvert and supporters of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act -- "are constantly using the juxtaposition of wanting to treat marijuana like alcohol. That's the narrative.."
However, he continues, "we at NORML can make a very cogent argument that 5 nanograms in your blood does not measure impairment. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have spent entire careers trying to set a standard, but cannabis is such a gray area regarding how it reacts in the body and how people individually react to it, that they've punted decade after decade."
St. Pierre doesn't pretend to know the right number at this point. But he believes 5 nanograms is the wrong one -- which explains why NORML is urging its members across the country to contact members of the Colorado House and express their opposition to SB 117.
Update: Just heard from Amendment 64 proponent Mason Tvert, who was concerned that Allen St. Pierre's reference to him and the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, seen above, implied that he and supporters of the measure back SB 117. That is not the case, he stresses, and elaborates in the following statement:
"It should be noted that the organization I run, SAFER, sent out alerts encouraging supporters to contact their representatives to ask them to oppose legislation that sets a per se limit of 5ng. Like a majority of senators last year and nearly a majority this year, we have significant concerns about legislation that could result in unimpaired drivers being charged with DUID.
As for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, while the language of our initiative left the decision-making in this field to our state's representatives, we are concerned about any per se standard that does not provide defendants the opportunity to demonstrate or prove that they were not actually impaired while driving."
Page down to read the action alert and a suggested message to legislators.