Marijuana: NORML wants THC driving bill re-do, health department boss out after lab scandal
Earlier this week, defense attorneys weighed in on a damning report aimed at the state toxicology lab, which conducts blood tests for cases of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Attorney Rob Corry thinks officials may have waited until June to release the document (it was finished in March) for fear it would undermine the THC driving bill, which passed last month after two failed attempts. Now, NORML wants the state legislature to revisit the law -- and the head of the health department, which oversees the lab, has resigned under pressure.
Yesterday afternoon, the office of Governor John Hickenlooper broke the news about Dr. Chris Urbina, the executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. As is expected at such times, Hickenlooper's statement about the resignation was gracious. It reads:
"Chris is a true public servant and valued member of our Cabinet. We are grateful for his work at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, particularly his support of safe and responsible development of the state's oil and natural gas resources. Chris also led the department in implementing LEAN process improvements to create a more responsive and effective operation that reduced unnecessary and ineffective rules and regulations."
|Dr. Chris Urbina.|
These last claims are mainly directed at Cynthia Burbach, who oversaw the lab and regularly testified in DUI and DUID cases, and lobbied on behalf of previous driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs bills, which argued for an intoxication standard of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. She, too, has resigned, stepping down at the end of May, just prior to the report's arrival.
In a remarkable, eleven-page defense of her actions issued earlier this week (it, too, is below), Burbach insists that the timing was entirely coincidental.
So, too, presumably, was the misspelling of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers's name as "John Struthers" in the release's first paragraph.
Suthers, for his part, put out a statement disputing speculation that he'd dragged his feet making the report public, claiming that he "immediately acted to ensure its expeditious release."
Not buying any of that is Sean McAllister, who is both a well-known marijuana attorney and a member of the legal committee for NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). On behalf of the group, NORML has formally filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for all written communication between Burbach and a raft of state agencies. Additionally, he's sent a letter to Hickenlooper, Suthers, speaker of the Colorado House Mark Ferrandino and state senate president John Morse.
In the letter, McAllister tells the officials that NORML is "requesting that the Legislature reconsider its decision to impose an arbitrary DUID-marijuana standard of 5 ng/ml in light of the revelations of the drastic deficiences in the lab training, qualification, accuracy, standard operating procedures, reporting, and alleged bias of employees of the state toxicology laboratory at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment."
We asked McAllister to expand on his complaints -- and he had no trouble doing so.
Continue for more about the THC driving bill, including photos and documents.