On Monday, a Senate committee passed a THC-driving limits bill that's broader than one that fell short last year. As Senator Morgan Carroll noted here yesterday, the proposal establishes zero tolerance for any Schedule I or Schedule II drugs, including many prescription medications. Cannabis activist Rico Colibri thinks the result could ban many seniors and veterans from driving.
Colibri co-founded the Association of Cannabis Trades, an organization that had significant input on HB-1284, the measure regulating medical marijuana retail operations in Colorado, and currently runs a nonprofit dubbed the Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education (CARE). He attended Monday's marathon hearing and was the last to testify, telling committee members that "the zero tolerance policy for Schedule II medicines will negatively effect anyone who takes them for pain management, including senior citizens and military veterans."
The proposal, sponsored by Senator Steve King, would set an impairment limit of five nanograms per milliliter of blood for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. However, there are no figures associated with Schedule I or Schedule II drugs. The reason, speculates Carroll, who opposes the measure, is that there's no reliable scientific information about safe driving levels for these other meds, so the bill's authors simply established that any trace of such substances would establish impairment. That's a highly dubious assumption in Colibri's view, and one that could have enormous repercussions for far more than medical marijuana patients.
"Senator King only talked about medical marijuana patients," Colibri says. "He's trying to cloak it with this other stuff. But something like 60 percent of the population in Colorado takes prescription-based medication, and many of them take Schedule II drugs. I have senior citizens in my family who have to take Oxycontin daily to get through their lives, and there are many, many veterans who have to do so because of injuries they sustained while keeping our country safe. And most people aren't aware that Senator King is trying to criminalize these veterans and other people with pain-management issues."
The majority of those who testified against the bill focused on medical marijuana patients, and the propensity of THC to linger in the system of regular users like Westword MMJ critic William Breathes, who tested at nearly triple the proposed standard while sober last year. But Colibri says "no one else really talked about how the lion's share of pain medications are opiates, and people who have to use them for pain management build up a resistance to them. You have to take more of them over time, and if you're a veteran and have to take high amounts of opiates during the day, there's never going to be a time when there's none in your system." Hence, such a person would be put in the position of either never driving again or knowing that every time he took the wheel, he'd be legally impaired in the eyes of the law even if the effects of the medication had long since dissipated.
To Colibri, who became a medical marijuana patient after being victimized in two accidents with drunk drivers that damaged discs in his neck and broke his right femur, the costs of the bill are too high both from a dollars and cents perspective (he cites an implementation price of $1.2 million) as well as on the citizenry as a whole. In his view, "They're trying to throw senior citizens in jail in some vain attempt to criminalize medical marijuana."
Below, see a white paper Colibri created in response to last year's THC driving bill. It advocates an eight nanogram per milliliter of blood standard that he today calls a "political decision" intended to soften the five nanogram standard that seemed likely to pass. Although it was written under the Association of Cannabis Trades banner, he points out that he resigned his position with that organization and only represents CARE at the current time
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