Senate Extinguishes Driving While Stoned Measure

May 16, 2012
aforero / Foter

DENVER– A bill that would have established legal limits for those driving under the influence of marijuana failed Tuesday on a 17-17 vote in the Senate during the Special Legislative Session. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) was disappointed, but said he’ll introduce a similar measure to introduce in the 2013 session.

“Tomorrow’s a new day and we’re starting again on another bill,” said King, adding that he may also invite Democrat Senators Morgan Carroll and Pat Steadman to help write a DUI bill to address Schedule I and II controlled substances.

Carroll of Aurora and Steadman of Denver were among those who had voted against the DUI marijuana bill in part because it omitted drugs such as Oxycodone, Vicodin and Percocet.

King’s bill had passed the Senate by a 1-vote margin during the regular session and was slated for passage in the House last week. Then, the Senator told The Colorado Observer, ““This has been a two year process. I think that I’ve done the best that I can do… I’d like to see the bill pass and go to the Governor to be signed into law.”

The bill never reached the House floor for a second reading during the regular session, however, because the body adjourned abruptly over an impasse on hearing the controversial civil unions bill. Yet, when Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a 3-day Special Legislative Session, he included King’s bill on the select few to be heard.

This week, the marijuana DUI bill had to traverse again through the House and Senate. The measure sailed through the House committees and passed 38-24 on the final reading on the floor. On Tuesday, the bill gained approvals by the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs and the Appropriations Committee, but failed on the second reading on the Senate floor.

The 17-17 vote in the Senate was a mix of Republicans and Democrats for and against the measure – and the votes cast were the same as those during the regular session with the exception of Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) who was visiting family in San Diego. Her vote had been critical in winning approval of the measure in the Senate in the regular session.

In the 3-day Special Session, the bill would have had to pass the second reading on Tuesday for the final vote in the Senate today.

“Nancy Spence wasn’t responsible for killing this bill. I’m disappointed in myself that I couldn’t convince one of the (six) Republicans to support it on the second reading so that she could have the opportunity to vote for it on Wednesday,” said King. “The responsibility lies with me – not Nancy.”

The unconvinced six Republicans who voted against the bill were Senators Greg Brophy of Wray, Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Tim Neville of Littleton.

Lundberg opposed the measure because setting a DUI level is a complicated issue in a state where medical marijuana is constitutionally legal. He also questioned the validity of the scientific data used to set DUI blood test levels.

Current state laws prohibit driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, but unlike alcohol, there is no legal standard applicable to marijuana.  The bill would have established a threshold DUI level for THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) at 5 nanograms per millimeter of blood.

The bill gained the support of Attorney General John Suthers, law enforcement officials and district attorneys. Among those who testified was Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garrett who said that he has supported legalized medical marijuana, but also recognized the danger of the increased number of marijuana-impaired drivers on the road.

Despite the bill’s failure, King said he hopes the medical marijuana industry will start educating its users and the public about the dangers of driving while impaired.

“I challenge them to do that,” said King. “Tell them, ‘Friends don’t have friends drive drunk; friends don’t have friends drive doped.”

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