Today, the Colorado General Assembly will meet in a special session called by Governor John Hickenlooper. The guv wants lawmakers to address issues left in limbo at the end of the regular term, including civil unions and a controversial THC driving bill that members of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group would like to supplant with an entirely new piece of legislation.
As we've reported, the so-called DUID bill, shorthanded as SB 117, would establish a per se THC impairment limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, with "per se" setting the sort of bright line that translates to instant guilt in the eyes of the law. Opponents raise questions about the usefulness of the standard, in part because THC tends to linger in the system of users. For example, medical marijuana reviewer William Breathes registered at nearly triple that level when sober during a test last year.
Such evidence led to the original bill being shelved in lieu of further analysis -- but the concept was revived by Senator Steve King. And while the arguments for and against the measure didn't change much from one year to the next, the results did. Senator Nancy Spence, who'd supported further study in 2011, became a King ally, resulting in the bill passing the Senate by an 18-17 vote -- and the Republican majority in the House made its approval by that chamber a seeming lock. However, the measure didn't receive a second reading on the penultimate day of the term, seemingly sending it to legislative oblivion.
But no: Although Hickenlooper called the special session mainly due to the uproar over the civil unions bill's demise, he included the THC driving proposal among seven items he encouraged legislators to address -- and if they do, it'll almost certainly pass this time. That doesn't mean Hick will definitely sign the bill, but plenty of observers believe he will.
Enter the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, working in concert with organizations such as the Cannabis Business Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers. In a press release sent out yesterday evening under the auspices of MMIG executive director Michael Elliott, the organization announces members' support of an entirely new bill -- one that would establish "appropriate per se levels for all drugs, not just marijuana." Regarding the latter, the THC impairment limit would be set at 15 nanograms -- three times higher than the number in King's bill, and a bit above the 13.5 nanograms Breathes registered in his aforementioned test.
Of course, there's no consensus on an appropriate limit for lotsa prescription medication -- one reason why King's bill originally established zero tolerance for Schedule I and II drugs. (The section pertaining to this topic was stripped out of SB 117 in late April due to its cost.) And even if ones existed, it's hard to imagine an entirely new measure this complex gaining enough traction during a special session to go anywhere.
Does that mean the proposal is more of a reputation-burnishing publicity stunt than a concept that actually has a chance? We'll see about that soon enough. In the meantime, here's the complete MMIG release:
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As responsible members of the medical marijuana industry, MMIG, ACT4CO, CBA, and the UFCW have agreed to work together toward the Governor's call. As such, we seek to introduce a bill that would enact the recommendations of the Marijuana DUID Workgroup, which was created last year by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to study marijuana and driving. The Workgroup recommended increases in (1) public education; (2) collection of data and research; and (3) Drug Recognition Experts. To date, the recommendations of this Workgroup have been ignored.
Under the Governor's Executive Order, D 2012-010 (5-10-12):
Colorado should enact a law that holds drivers under the influence of marijuana, or any other controlled substance, to the same standards as those applied to drivers under the influence of alcohol. We believe, therefore, that the General Assembly should consider taking appropriate legislative action to enact a law that holds drivers under the influence of drugs to a DUI per se standard.
In seeking to meet the call of the Governor, our industry recommends legislation that includes appropriate per se levels for all drugs, not just marijuana. With regard to THC, we propose a 15 nanogram per se standard, which researchers such as Jan Ramaekers, who testified to the CCJJ, have indicated is the level of THC in a person's blood that guarantees impairment. A standard lower than 15 nanograms risks criminalizing the innocent, while undoing basic tenets of our criminal justice system such as proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence, and the right to a jury trial.
As such, we hope to receive a fair hearing before the Colorado General Assembly. We ask that during a highly politicized Special Session of the General Assembly that legislators don't play politics with people's lives. We ask that any DUID bill brought forth, should be assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee as this type of legislation deals with a criminal matter.
We believe our proposal will give the state the resources it needs to keep our roads safe while respecting the constitutional rights of its citizens.
Michael Elliott Executive Director Medical Marijuana Industry Group
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