DENVER– A bill to set marijuana DUI limits passed its final hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, and was directed to Gov. John Hickenlooper who will likely sign it into law. Hickenlooper urged the legislature to pass the bill, which was revived after being derailed last month.
The passage of the bill seemed to become a crusade for Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) who sponsored the measure and pitched it six times since 2010, including the regular and special sessions last year.
“The victims and the families of those, who were killed or injured by drivers impaired by marijuana, can have some comfort that this law will serve as a significant deterrent,” said King. “I am proud that the victim’s families and advocates persistence finally paid off.”
Current law allows law enforcement to stop a driver for probable cause, typically erratic or careless driving, and perform a roadside sobriety test.
House Bill 1325 enforces an impairment standard for drug DUI at 5 nanograms of Delta 9-THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana, per milliliter of blood.
Whether it’s an alcohol or marijuana DUI charge, a driver can consent to a blood test or refuse. If a driver refuses their license is automatically revoked for one year.
King spent hours and hours in committee hearings each session presenting research on THC levels in the bloodstream and statistics on the increasing number of fatal accidents that involved drugged driving.
“In 2012 alone, over 20 percent of deadly crashes on Colorado roads involved marijuana,” said King.
Opponents argued that 5 nanograms is an arbitrary number and scientific studies are inconclusive and conflicting.
They expressed concerns that unimpaired chronic and medical marijuana users could be charged with a DUI because THC remains at higher levels and over a longer period of time in their bloodstream.
King, who worked with Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, said the bill includes a “permissive inference” standard to allow medical marijuana users to argue their case of not being impaired at 5 nanograms.
HB 1325 passed the Senate on a 24 -11 vote, with Republican Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins joining a handful of Democrats in opposition.
Hill said that he wants to protect people from impaired drivers on the road, but he also feels an obligation to protect the liberties of people which could be infringed by the 5 nanograms standard if it’s wrong.
“I’m still not convinced that this is the best way to go,” said Hill.