Senator Steve King's proposed THC driving bill is headed to the state senate floor, probably tomorrow. To clear its path, language that would have established a zero tolerance policy for all Schedule I and II drugs was stripped out Friday. As such, the proposal is very similar to one shelved in 2011 -- not that it's necessarily doomed to the same fate.
"Last year, the bill died on the senate floor under very strange circumstances," says Senator Pat Steadman, who opposes the measure. "There was odd bipartisan support [for setting it aside] that showed a plurality of opinion in the senate. Whether anyone has the same position today I doubt, so I think it's kind of hard to predict."
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the gist of the proposal. In Steadman's view, "it's basically turned into last year's bill."
The 2011 blueprint for the document established a THC driving standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood -- a number supporters characterized as the equivalent of the blood alcohol limit used to determine drunk driving. However, marijuana activists argued that the proclivity for THC to linger in the system of users for many hours or even days afterward makes this methodology suspect when it comes to determining actual impairment. For instance, medical marijuana reviewer William Breathes's blood tested at nearly three times the legal limit when he was sober.
Evidence like this resulted in the bill being designated for further study. But even though the science for determining THC impairment hasn't markedly improved over the past twelve months, King revived the measure anyway. Instead of simply reproducing the first version, though, he added Schedule I and II narcotics to the text, with any trace of such substances also establishing a user's impairment under the proposal.
Advocate Rico Colibri argued that this edict could essentially ban seniors and veterans legally using many prescriptions from driving. But that's not why the bill ran into trouble with the appropriations committee on Friday, Steadman says. Instead, the problem was the cost to set up an entirely new system for Schedule I and II testing. Taking out this section "eliminated the fiscal impact," Steadman notes -- after which the appropriations committee passed the bill by a 6-3 vote.
Steadman was one of the nays. Why?
"In my mind, this is not a solution to the professed problem," he replies. "People are being arrested, charged and convicted under the current law, and so I don't really buy the idea that we need a greater deterrent to impaired driving. Right now, there's something like 95 or 96 percent convictions [without the 5 nanogram standard], so proving impairment in court doesn't appear to be a problem.
"The whole point of the bill is to make the DA's job easier, because there would be even less they'd have to prove. But does it really create a deterrent when we have such a high conviction rate already?The bill just allows DAs to be lazy."
There's also the possibility of people who aren't legitimately impaired being convicted because of the new standard. "If, for some reason, someone gets into a situation where a blood test is taken, then 'boom,' they're guilty. Now, admittedly blood draws usually occur when there's been an accident or someone has been pulled over -- they don't tend to happen randomly. But if it's that easy to convict, maybe they would start to happen randomly more in the future."
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At this point, Steadman believes his colleagues' opinions are all over the map. "There are some people who think this bill is too liberal, some people who think it's too conservative, some people who think this bill solves a problem, some people who think this bill is a solution in search of a problem. There are very diverse opinions, and how exactly it's all going to go down, I'm not sure."
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana advocates prepare to fight THC driving bill."