Marijuana Advocates Fight Blood Tests Aimed at Drugged Drivers
It is still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana in Colorado, but prosecutors must prove impairment in every case. A bill that would set a legal limit for the amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, allowed in a motorist's bloodstream cleared its first hurdle and passed unanimously in the Colorado House Judiciary Committee in February 2013.
Marijuana supporters say that such measures let prosecutors off the hook when it comes to proving DUI charges. Opinions are heated on both sides.
“I haven’t had a car accident since I was 18, and I’ve had marijuana in my system for most of that time,” Paul Saurini,39, recently told lawmakers.
However, John Jackson, chief of police in Greenwood Village, says that not setting some boundaries to protect people’s safety is reckless. Colorado Sen. Steve King concurs, adding that setting THC limits would get his vote of approval as driving high is on par with drunk driving.
Under House Bill 1114, drivers caught with five nanograms of THC in their blood would be considered to be driving under the influence of marijuana and could be ticketed.
Recent research conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests the five-nanogram standard may be too high to capture drivers impaired by marijuana. Marilyn Huestis of NIDA, who conducted a study on marijuana use and psychomotor function, says active THC quickly falls below the five-nanogram limit within 24 hours. “The level of five nanograms per mil is pretty high,” she recently told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “We know that people are impaired at lower levels than five, but the balancing act is trying to find a number that can reliably separate (the impaired from the not-impaired), which is almost impossible to do.”
Marijuana activists agree that compromised driving should not be permissible, but they don’t think blood tests are the way to go.
Because cannabis stays in a person’s system for an extended period of time after consumption, the drug’s supporters argue that convicting someone of drugged driving based on a positive THC test might lead to wrongful persecution, particularly if a person has developed a tolerance.
Washington state television station KIRO recently assembled a group of volunteers, had them smoke marijuana, and set them loose on a driving test course to try and answer the question: How high is too high to drive?
The less-than-scientific results, while entertaining, don't add much to clarify the issue. A regular smoker of marijuana tested above the legal limit to begin with, yet drove without much of a problem. Two casual smokers also navigated the course without incident. However, after smoking more marijuana, driving ability began to devolve quickly.