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Colorado pot DUIs bill gets first OK at Capitol

7:55 PM, Mar 10, 2011   |    comments
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The bill would allow prosecutors to charge a driver with driving under the influence if they test positive for 5 nanograms or more of THC, a level that would be the most liberal in statute in the country. Pennsylvania also has a 5 nanogram limit, it's one that set by the state Health Department that can be used as evidence in driving violation cases. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Supporters of House Bill 1261 said it's a matter of public safety to have a standard of how much pot is too much to be able to drive.

"I think people forget that automobiles are one of the most significant killing machines on the face of the earth," Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council, said moments after the 6-2 committee vote. Several pot activists spoke against the bill, saying it would adversely impact medical marijuana users who may have a higher tolerance for the drug that would allow them to safely drive at the blood-content limit lawmakers are proposing to set. Opponents also worry that simply testing positive for that level of the drug would automatically lead to a conviction and not allow suspects to present evidence to rebut the case against them.

"They have the potential of incriminating thousands of people who are innocent," testified Max Montrose, a 22-year-old who told lawmakers he uses marijuana for medical purposes.

Colorado is one of 16 states with a medical marijuana law.

It's already illegal to drive while impaired by drugs but states have taken different approaches to the issue and 12 states have taken a strict no-tolerance approach, making it illegal to drive with any presence of an illegal substance. States with that policy include Illinois, Arizona, and Rhode Island.

Nevada, which is one the states that allows medical marijuana, and Ohio have laws in their books that set a 2 nanogram THC limit for driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, peak THC concentrations are present during the act of smoking and they generally fall to less than 5 nanograms within three hours.

Rep. Mark Waller, an El Paso County Republican who is co-sponsoring the bill, said there needs to be a limit for driving under the influence for marijuana, just like there is for alcohol.

"I think this is a pretty analogous issue here," he said.

Rep. Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat also sponsoring the bill, tried to reassure medical marijuana patients that this bill was not intended to unfairly target them. But the dozens of medical marijuana activists in the committee room didn't buy it.

"Clearly, we see it as a witchhunt on medical marijuana patients," said Laura Kriho, a spokeswoman for Colorado's Cannabis Therapy Institute.

The bill faces several steps before it becomes law and it still faces another committee hearing before the full House debates it.

Read House Bill 1261: http://tinyurl.com/4jz9agx.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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