Colorado lawmakers voted for marijuana driving limts Tuesday

HB 1114 sets 5 nanogram limit

DENVER - The push to establish limits for driving under the influence of marijuana gained more traction Tuesday when the House of Representatives approved H.B. 1114 without opposition.

Under the bill, drivers may be considered impaired if a blood test shows more than 5 nanongrams (billionths of a gram) of Delta 9 THC in a milliliter of blood.

Delta 9 is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“We have 108,000 patients who have a valid ID card for medical marijuana,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “And when you mix medical marijuana or recreational marijuana and driving, that combination does not mix.”

But opponents of the bill say there is no science behind it.

“There are people who want to set a limit, who are doing the science, but say science does not support setting such a limit based on the epidemiology,” said Robert Chase of the Colorado Coalition for Patients & Caregivers.

Chase admits that cannabis can be impairing.

“I’m not suggesting that people should go out and drive intoxicated,” Chase said. “But, it’s been shown that cannabis induces people to drive more slowly and to follow less closely. Those are, in order, the two greatest contributors to accidents.”

But House Minority Leader, Rep. Mark Waller, R-El Paso County, told 7NEWS, “We’re seeing more traffic fatalities where marijuana is the cause of that fatality, so it is obviously a public safety issue.”

7NEWS reported in July of 2010 that one of the truck drivers in a double-fatal head-on crash in Commerce City was under the influence of marijuana, according to police.

Daniel Seilheimer, 41, of Colorado Springs, was southbound on the 7500 block of Quebec Parkway when he crossed the center median and slammed into a truck driven by George Mendoza, 52, of Adams County.  Both trucks caught fire.

According to toxicology tests, Seilheimer was so influenced by marijuana that his ability to safely operate a motor vehicle was significantly impaired, police said.

Chase said Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment should be studying the effects of marijuana before lawmakers pass laws setting legal limits.

“Colorado is in a unique position to find out,” he said, noting that the state has already been dealing with medical marijuana and recently approved the recreational use of marijuana.

Waller told 7NEWS that this is the third year in a row a marijuana DUI bill has been introduced in the house.

He said it’s passed in the House each time, but failed in the Senate.

He said this year’s proposal is different from the previous ones.

The initial proposal included the phrasing “per se limit.” Waller said that meant that if you exceeded the nanogram limit, you were under the influence of marijuana.

He said this year’s version includes the phrase “permissive preference.” He said that means a jury can infer that you are under the influence, but you can argue other factors in mitigation.

He said the "permissive preference" was added because frequent pot users argue that their blood limits exceed 5 nanograms even while sober.

“Five nanongrams is still pretty liberal,” Waller said. “Most European countries have either a ½-nanogram or a 1-nanogram level. There are several states out there that have a 2-nanogram level.”

According to the House GOP, thirteen percent of deadly crashes in Colorado in 2011 involved marijuana.

H.B. 1114 will be heard again on the House floor Wednesday.  If approved on third reading, it will move on to the Senate.

Waller said his bill has bi-partisan support and he’s hopeful that it has enough support to pass this time in the Senate.

House Bill 1114: http://bit.ly/16rCPRB