MJ Friendly Colorado Debates Blood-Level Limits

Mar 3, 2013

When is some­one too stoned to drive? The answer, it turns out, has been any­thing but sim­ple in Col­orado, which last fall became one of the first states in the coun­try to legal­ize mar­i­juana. Pros­e­cu­tors and some law­mak­ers have long pushed for laws that would set a strict blood-level limit for THC, the key ingre­di­ent in cannabis. A dri­ver over the limit would be deemed guilty of dri­ving under the influ­ence, just as with alco­hol. Such leg­is­la­tion has failed sev­eral times in recent years in the face of fierce oppo­si­tion from mar­i­juana advo­cates and defense lawyers, who claim a one-size-fits-all stan­dard doesn’t work for mar­i­juana because it affects the body dif­fer­ently than alco­hol. On both sides, pas­sions run high. “I haven’t had a car acci­dent since I was 18, and I’ve had mar­i­juana in my sys­tem for most of that time,” said Paul Saurini, 39, one of numer­ous weed activists, or “wac­tivists,” who spoke out against set­ting a firm blood-level limit dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing in the state cap­i­tal this week. “We have to cre­ate some stan­dards to pro­tect pub­lic safety. Not doing so, in my opin­ion, is reck­less pub­lic pol­icy,” said John Jack­son, the police chief in nearby Green­wood Vil­lage. “Any time you legal­ize things like this, you’ll have more of it on the road­way. If we had vend­ing machines with Oxy­con­tin, there’d be more peo­ple on Oxy­con­tin dri­ving on the road­ways. And that’s not safe.” Since the pas­sage of Amend­ment 64 in Novem­ber, Col­orado has been wrestling with the many ques­tions of how to reg­u­late the new mar­i­juana real­ity, from how to tax it and mon­i­tor its growth to where peo­ple can buy it, sell it, smoke it and adver­tise it. But drugged dri­ving looms as one of the most crit­i­cal and con­tro­ver­sial issues. The out­come of Colorado’s strug­gle to shape marijuana-related DUI laws could have far-reaching impli­ca­tions, as a grow­ing num­ber of states approve mar­i­juana for med­ical use and oth­ers con­sider legal­iz­ing the drug alto­gether. State Sen. Steve King, a Repub­li­can who sup­ports a THC limit, insists that dri­ving high is no dif­fer­ent than dri­ving drunk. “You’re a threat and a haz­ard,” he said. “The con­sen­sus should be to err on the side of safety for the trav­el­ing pub­lic.” Michael Elliott and other mar­i­juana advo­cates argue that mar­i­juana affects dif­fer­ent peo­ple dif­fer­ently, and that set­ting a THC limit would free pros­e­cu­tors from hav­ing to prove their cases and could lead to wrong­ful DUI con­vic­tions. “When it comes to crim­i­nal law, we err on the side of pro­tect­ing the free­dom of our cit­i­zens and hold­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to the high­est stan­dards of proof,” said Elliott, a lawyer and exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Colorado-based Med­ical Mar­i­juana Indus­try Group. Though research and opin­ions vary widely, stud­ies have shown that smok­ing mar­i­juana tends to affect spa­tial per­cep­tions. Dri­vers might swerve or fol­low other cars too closely, as well as lose their con­cen­tra­tion and suf­fer from slowed reac­tion times. Such find­ings have led some researchers to con­clude that dri­ving high dou­bles the chances for an acci­dent, and that smok­ing pot and drink­ing before dri­ving is a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous mix. Every state bars dri­ving under the influ­ence. But con­vic­tions in drugged-driving cases gen­er­ally rely on police offi­cers’ obser­va­tions rather than blood tests. The White House in a drug pol­icy paper last year called on states to adopt blood-limit laws in an effort to reduce drugged-driving inci­dents by 10 per­cent by 2015. But dif­fer­ent states have taken dif­fer­ent approaches. In Ohio and Nevada, where med­ical mar­i­juana is legal, the limit for dri­ving is two nanograms per mil­li­liter of blood. In Wash­ing­ton state, that limit is five nanograms. A dozen other states, includ­ing Illi­nois, Iowa and Ari­zona, have zero-tolerance poli­cies for dri­ving under the influ­ence of mar­i­juana and var­i­ous con­trolled sub­stances. In Col­orado, both sides agree that peo­ple shouldn’t drive impaired; the fight is over what should be used as proof of impair­ment. Mar­i­juana advo­cates argue that, unlike with alco­hol, traces of the drug remain in the blood­stream long after an indi­vid­ual has smoked pot, and that a THC test can mis­tak­enly sug­gest a per­son is high, espe­cially in a reg­u­lar smoker who has built up tol­er­ance to the drug. But offi­cials who favor a blood-level limit say tests exist that can pin­point “active” THC in the blood­stream in the hours imme­di­ately after mar­i­juana usage. Peo­ple on both sides cite the work of Dutch researcher Jan Ramaek­ers, who found that mar­i­juana users gen­er­ally are impaired at a level of five nanograms, but that many cannabis users do develop higher tol­er­ances. Ramaek­ers, in an inter­view, said he sup­ports the five-nanogram limit, not­ing that law­mak­ers have long set a legal limit for alco­hol in the name of pub­lic safety, even though peo­ple have dif­fer­ent tol­er­ances and impair­ment varies by per­son. “Who should the law serve? The indi­vid­ual or the pop­u­la­tion?” he asked. Still, some in Col­orado are con­cerned about draw­ing a bright line between impaired and unim­paired when it comes to mar­i­juana. The state Senate’s major­ity leader, Demo­c­rat Mor­gan Car­roll, said research sug­gests that impair­ment can occur with any­where from two to 20 nanograms per mil­li­liter of blood. “My num­ber one prob­lem is that you could con­vict some­one at five nanograms who wasn’t actu­ally impaired,” she said. Law­mak­ers are work­ing on a com­pro­mise to break the long-standing impasse. A bill backed by King and other leg­is­la­tors would set five nanograms as the legal limit, but a test indi­cat­ing that level would not auto­mat­i­cally result in a DUI con­vic­tion. Instead, peo­ple accused of dri­ving under the influ­ence would be able to argue in court that they weren’t impaired. The mea­sure is work­ing its way through the state­house and appears likely to pass. Car­roll is still not fond of the five-nanogram limit but says she and oth­ers might be swayed by the pro­vi­sion that would allow defen­dants to make their case in court. “It gives the accused the oppor­tu­nity to come in and offer proof,” she said. At Tuesday’s hear­ing, a string of law enforce­ment offi­cials and a state tox­i­col­o­gist tes­ti­fied in favor of the leg­is­la­tion. Ed Wood, whose son was killed in a car acci­dent caused by a drugged dri­ver, said he sup­ported the bill but wants an even tougher stan­dard. “We believe Col­orado deserves bet­ter,” he said. But Saurini and other “wac­tivists” voiced their oppo­si­tion, with some argu­ing that mar­i­juana often induces para­noia and causes peo­ple to drive abnor­mally slowly, as opposed to alco­hol, which can pro­vide the “liq­uid courage” to drive irre­spon­si­bly. King, the law­maker who has long pushed for a legal limit, grows agi­tated at the sug­ges­tion by some mar­i­juana advo­cates that they drive as well or even bet­ter high. It’s a rea­son, he said, to put a limit in place as soon as pos­si­ble. “I heard that [argu­ment] 25 years ago with alco­hol,” he said. “If you want to smoke mar­i­juana, smoke mar­i­juana. But smoke and walk, smoke and get a ride, smoke and take a cab. Don’t smoke and drive — that’s the point we’re try­ing to make.” Den­nis reported from Wash­ing­ton. Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Author: Brady Den­nis and T.W. Far­nam Pub­lished: March 1, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.wash​ing​ton​post​.com/

05450f5664aaltis.jpg 150x93 MJ Friendly Colorado Debates Blood Level Limits

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MJ Friendly Col­orado Debates Blood-Level Limits

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