THC Limit for Drivers Fails in Colorado Senate

On May 9, 2011, the Colorado Senate voted against HB1261, which proposed a DUI limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood for drivers. The vote came as a surprise to many and was a victory for medical marijuana users and a disappointment for law enforcement agencies.

Colorado's medical marijuana law allows individuals to obtain small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes. Many of these individuals have high THC levels from their legal marijuana use. Colorado's THC DUI bill did not differentiate between recent marijuana use (active metabolites) and THC levels that have built up from years of smoking marijuana. Had it passed, there may have been serious consequences for those using marijuana legally as well as those who had used marijuana (legally or illegally) in the past.

The History of Colorado's Marijuana Driving Bill

Sponsored by Republican Mark Waller and Democrat Claire Levy, the bill was meant to enhance current laws in place for DUI (driving under the influence of drugs) and DWAI (driving while ability impaired). The bill overwhelmingly passed the Colorado House with a 51-14 vote.

The Senate Chair first called for a voice vote, but then had to call on opponents to stand up as the results were unclear at first. When more than 18 Senators stood to show their opposition, the Chair ruled the bill had failed.

As a last effort, Senators Boyd and King attempted to revive the bill with an amendment. The Senate voted 20 to 15 to not revive the bill, effectively ending its chances for the current legislative session.

A Victory for Medical Marijuana Users

Many medical marijuana patients opposed the bill as it infringed upon their rights to use the physician-prescribed drug. "This is a huge victory for patients, who fought to uphold their rights with hundreds of letters and phone calls," said Laura Kriho, spokeswoman for the Cannabis Therapy Institute, an influential opponent of the bill.

The Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry has received 137,556 new patient applications since it began operating in June 2001. Of accepted applicants, 69% are male and 56% reside in the Denver metro area. The most common health complaints for which marijuana has been prescribed are severe pain, muscle spasms and severe nausea. The DUI marijuana bill would have imposed restraints on individuals legally taking marijuana for medical reasons.

Interestingly, if the bill had passed and the five-nanogram THC limit was implemented, it would be the most tolerant law of its kind in the U.S.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers commented on his disappointment with the Senate's decision, saying it "exhibited not only a lack of concern for the safety of Colorado drivers and pedestrians, but also an inability to lead." Perhaps, instead, the fact that the bill did not pass shows concern — concern for those that use medical marijuana.

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