State Senator Plans to Reintroduce Bill to Stop Driving While Stoned

A state senator says he will try again to pass a bill that makes it easier to convict people of driving while stoned.

State Sen. Steve King said Friday he is working on a proposal that would set a limit for how much THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — drivers could have in their blood before they would be presumed to be driving high. The limit — known as a “per se” limit — would work like the .08 blood-alcohol limit for drunk-driving cases. Drivers who test above the limit would have little leeway to challenge in court whether they were impaired.

“Quite frankly, I think it’s time we cleared the smoke out of this,” said King, R-Grand Junction. “If you drive high, it’s against the law, it puts people’s lives at risk and you should deal with the consequences of making that bad decision.”

The legislature considered  such a bill last year, but ultimately rejected it amid concerns the proposed limit was low enough it could have snagged sober drivers along with stoned ones. State Sen. Morgan Carroll, an Aurora Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the new bill would likely face similar doubts this year.

Carroll argued research is not conclusive about a THC level at which everyone is impaired. Frequent users — like medical-marijuana patients, for instance — might always have some THC in their system without being impaired.

“If you’re going to put science in the statute,” Carroll said, “it needs to be pretty good science.”

King said he has not yet decided whether to put last year’s limit — 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood — in this year’s bill.

Instead, he said he might propose a zero-tolerance limit this year. Under such a scenario, drivers with any amount of THC in their blood could be charged with driving under the influence.

“If you have THC on board,” King said, “you have to make a decision: ‘I have to call a cab. I have to rely on public transportation.’

“At the forefront of that is the protection and the safety of the traveling public of Colorado. Driving is not a right. It is a privilege.”

Carroll said a zero-tolerance level would require medical-marijuana patients to pick between their chosen treatment and driving.

“That is not a choice we have forced other people with other medications to face,” she said.

It is already against the law in Colorado to drive while impaired by drugs. But currently, without a per se limit for drugged driving, prosecutors must prove at trial that a suspect was impaired. A per se level shortcuts that step by presuming impairment above the limit.

Following the death of the THC bill last legislative session, the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice further studied the issue. But the commission couldn’t reach consensus on recommending that the legislature pursue a per se law this year.


Source: The Denver Post, “State senator plans to reintroduce bill to stop driving while stoned,” by John Ingold, January 13, 2012.