THC driving limit's passage means pot critic William Breathes may never drive legally again
Yesterday, a marijuana activist said that a controversial THC driving bill, a version of which failed each of the past two years, appeared to be a lock for passage -- and he was right. The measure breezed through by a 24-11 vote despite what critics describe as an almost total lack of scientific evidence to suggest that the intoxication standard is accurate for all people. Indeed, once the law is signed, Westword marijuana critic William Breathes likely will not be able to drive without breaking the law. Details below.
As we've reported, driving while stoned is currently illegal under Colorado law. But unlike in the case of alcohol, there's no number at which a marijuana-using driver is considered to be officially impaired -- and cannabis activists see that as a good thing, since the science on the subject is infinitely less certain than it is in the case of booze. Nonetheless, the medical marijuana industry boom caused assorted legislators to believe one was needed anyhow.
Legislation from 2011 and 2012 would have established THC intoxication at five nanograms per milliliter of blood and made this standard per se -- meaning that a test registering five nanograms or more would be seen as irrefutable proof of intoxication. In response, critics argued that because THC tends to linger in users for longer periods of time, it's next to impossible to determine actual impairment via a blood test, at least under presently available technology.
This year, the five nanogram limit was still part of the legislation, originally known as HB 1114, but the per se language vanished from the measure, sponsored by Representative Rhonda Fields. Instead, the text referred to "permissible inference," which would allow people who register at five nanograms or above to present other evidence in court to prove that they weren't actually impaired, rather than being considered guilty as a result of the test reading.
However, Fields, who's also the sponsor of 1114's sequel, HB 13-1325, considers the standard to be necessary given what's thought to be increased marijuana use in the area due to previously existing medical marijuana laws and the signing of Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of cannabis recreationally in Colorado. Moreover, in an interview last month, she expressed confidence that innocent people wouldn't be convicted as a result of the limit.
"The bill looks for active THC in the system, not inactive THC," she told us. "If someone is a chronic user, like medical marijuana patients who use it as part of their treatment, we won't be looking at something that's residue. We'll only be looking at the active THC level."
This argument didn't convince the Senate Judiciary Committee, which rejected 1114 due in part to a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling against warrantless blood draws after drunk-driving arrests. But the THC limit was reintroduced, and thanks in part to pressure from law-enforcement groups, which said in a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper that passing marijuana laws without such a standard would be irresponsible, the measure gathered steam.
In the end, it appears that a majority of legislators decided that passing a dubious law that may result in innocent people being prosecuted would be politically better than to be seen as doing nothing after retail pot operations open and potentially tens of thousands of additional marijuana smokers hit the streets.
Problem is, medical marijuana patients' regular use of cannabis means their system is always over the five nanogram limit. For proof, turn to a 2011 post in which MMJ critic William Breathes's blood tested at nearly triple the legal limit fifteen hours after he last smoked, with a doctor declaring him to be sober.
Look below to see that entire article, which puts into context the way the soon-to-become law places patients like Breathes at risk in the name of safety.
Continue for William Breathes's original post about blood testing and lingering THC.