Colorado Senate Fails to Pass 'D-U-High' Bill, Rejecting Unscientific Limit for Blood's THC Content

On Tuesday, the Colorado State Senate rejected a 'D-U-High' bill that would have criminalized driving 'under the influence' of more than a certain amount of THC per milliliter of blood.  The House passed the bill earlier on Tuesday, but the Senate's bipartisan 17-17 tie fell one vote short of passing it.   

Like DUI laws, the legislation assumed that drivers with more than the legal limit -- 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood --   were under the influence "per se", so that even if drivers did not seem or act impaired, the substance level detection would be all the evidence necessary for a conviction.  Currently, police officers have discretion to determine whether marijuana users are driving impaired. But because marijuana builds up and remains in the body even after periods of discontinued use, the proposed legislation would likely have slammed unimpaired marijuana users -- including patients -- with unfair DUIs. 

 “I don’t think it’ll make our roads any safer,” Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman told the AP, and science backs his statement. Research has failed to find a significant link between marijuana use and dangerous driving.   

As one recent study notes:  

Epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents; in contrast, unanimity exists that alcohol use increases crash risk."  

A study published in the Journal Of Psychoactive Drugs, too, found that marijuana use did not affect driving ability:

In addition to an uneventful, baseline segment of driving, participants were challenged with collision avoidance and distracted driving scenarios. 

Under the influence of marijuana, participants decreased their speed and failed to show expected practice effects during a distracted drive. No differences were found during the baseline driving segment or collision avoidance scenarios.

What's more, regular marijuana users, including patients, build up marijuana levels in their systems over time, meaning they may be above the legal limit without actually being impaired. As one study showed, even after a week of abstinence from marijuana use, some users maintained levels of THC up to 3 ng/mL. 

The Associated Press explained how one "lone Senator" prevented the bill from passing:

Opponents tried to amend the bill to exempt state-certified medical marijuana patients from the limit. The amendment failed.

"Impaired is impaired, whether you have a (medical marijuana) card or don't have a card," argued Republican Sen. Steve King.

After the amendment failed, the entire bill collapsed. Its fate appeared to hinge on the absence Tuesday of a lone senator — Republican Sen. Nancy Spence of the Denver suburb of Centennial.

Spence opposed the DUI measure last year, but changed course and gave the marijuana DUI a single-vote margin of victory in the Senate earlier this year. That bill didn't clear the House, though, as that chamber was embroiled in a last-minute standoff over civil unions for same-sex couples.

The pot bill came back to lawmakers in a special legislative session. However, Spence has been out of town all week and didn't make it to Denver for the vote. Her absence meant defeat for the bill.

Law enforcement lobbyists say they will continue to work to pass a marijuana DUI standard in Colorado. Marijuana policy reform advocates suggest a compromise similar to many state DUI laws, whereby drivers should first participate in a roadside sobriety test, and only be required submit to a blood test if they fail. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at May 15, 2012, 12:37pm