THC DUI bill passes second reading in spite of spirited debate

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, was rebuffed today in her attempt to raise the per se level for marijuana impairment from 5 nanograms of THC to 8.

Levy’s bill passed without amendments. Co-sponsor Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, said there was no reason for the change and said science and consensus called for a 5 nanogram limit. The House killed Levy’s amendment and passed the bill on second reading on a voice vote.

The battle between sponsors occurred Tuesday on the House floor when Levy moved to amend HB 1261 regulating the amount of Delta 9 THC levels individuals can have in their blood when driving a vehicle.

Rep. Claire Levy
Levy moved to increase the level from 5 nanograms of Delta 9 THC to 8 nanograms before an individual would be guilty of a DUI per se in the state. Levy said that while she defended the 5 nanogram level in committee, the science was not settled on what level of intoxication clearly impaired an individual’s ability to operate a vehicle.

Levy said that because the bill stipulated that anyone who had their blood tested and was found to have a blood THC level above the legal limit would be guilty of driving while under the influence, the limit should be higher until the science is fully fleshed out. Individuals found to be guilty of driving while impaired would be subject to losing their licenses and the same administrative penalties occurring in DUI arrests involving alcohol.

“The reason that I am offering this amendment is a recognition of the concern and uneasiness among marijuana users to say that the science is really solid enough that 5 nanograms causes a person who is a regular user of medical marijuana to having impaired driving,” Levy said. I think there is a substantial body of science supporting that 5 nanograms produces a level of intoxication … but the connection between that and impaired driving is a lot more tenuous.”

Waller, however, opposed the change.

“We heard from the experts in the Judicial Committee that perhaps even 1 or 2 nanograms was the right level, but they could live with 5. That is what the only experts, the true experts came and testified.”

In response to Levy’s amendment, Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, offered an amendment to lower the level to 2 nanograms. While he eventually withdrew the amendment, Gardner said that he was angered by the months of debate that had gone into creating the consensus of 5 nanongrams.

Levy retorted that the bill, which originated in the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, had settled on 5 nanograms and did not support a 2 nanogram limit. However, she further explained the need for a higher level to determine impairment.

“A per se level means that if your blood is tested and you have 5 nanograms of Delta 9 THC in your blood you are guilty of a misdemeanor and you do not get to argue that it did not impair you,” Levy said. “It seems to me we ought to err on the side of caution.”

Rep. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs, however, said that blood tests would not be taken unless an officer had first seen signs of driving impairment in a person that they pull over.

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said the he was against the bill for a whole different reason. He said that taking blood from someone was wholly too evasive. It was a position Waller said should not affect the decision on whether to vote for the bill. He said that individuals could say no to the drug test and lose their license to drive. He said driving is not a constitutional right.

The House decided to go with the 5 nanogram limit by voting against the amendment but passing the bill. It now goes to third reading.

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