Marijuana: Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers takes on THC and driving

Last week, Representative Claire Levy talked about introducing legislation to establish standards for driving under the influence of marijuana. Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers' Robert Chase, a well-known local marijuana advocate, opposes this notion, and in a letter to Levy and other members of the general assembly, he explains why. In his view, such a measure is supported by neither science nor a demonstrated problem. Read his take below:

Representatives Claire Levy, Bob Gardner, Mark Waller, and the entire Colorado General Assembly State Capitol 200 East Colfax Denver CO 80203

Messrs. et Mesdames:

I am writing concerning the proposal to pass a law establishing a standard for impairment while driving under the influence of cannabis. Irrespective of how much support there is for such a measure, or what legislators' opinions are on the subject, I suggest that science should inform you in all your considerations (of this or any other subject). A review of data on accidents caused by impaired or distracted driving shows that there is no factual basis for declaring that the use of cannabis, medical or otherwise, poses a threat to motorists, or that the proposed limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood (5 ng/ml) is objectively correlated to driving impairment. There is therefore no exigency necessitating amending Colorado Revised Statutes to make criminal driving while blood levels of THC are at or above 5 ng/ml.

The use of any intoxicant or the presence of any distraction while driving may increase the risk of accidents, and the state should so advise motorists. The use of the criminal code must be limited to the proscription of actual dangers (as opposed to all possible ones); the equation of a lack of prohibition with license has led to the passage of any number of nonsensical laws. With US incarceration rates exceeding those of every other nation on Earth, no honest American can answer the interrogatory posed of us in our national anthem (i.e. "does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er... the land of the free?") in the affirmative. Lawyers who cannot distinguish between liberty and license have brought us to this pass.

In the case of cannabis, while it is conceded that it is intoxicating, and that its use while driving is distracting, the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence suggests that there is no reason for the General Assembly to act. Unlike alcohol, cannabis does not impair users' motor coordination, nor does it imbue them with overconfidence. Studies of accidents do not bear out your blindered misconception that cannabis must be causing mayhem on the highways; to the contrary, people who have used cannabis are known to reduce speed and to follow less closely -- it is entirely possible that levels of 5 ng/ml of THC in blood may reduce accident rates! I do not argue that you should mandate the use of cannabis, but an objective review of the data suggests that using cannabis while driving may be no more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, disciplining unruly children in the back seat, or being over the age of sixty while driving -- the salient distinction being that users of cannabis are a marginalized constituency (like Jews in Western Europe, or old women living beyond the edge of town) as opposed to smokers, parents, and retirees. For that matter, common sense dictates that any distracting influences may impair driving ability -- that would include the operation of car stereos. With regard to Rep. Levy's vaunted cellular phone ban, the evidence suggests that it is equally dangerous for drivers to use hands-free devices as to hold cellphones. As you are casting around for laws to pass, I commend addressing the problem of cellphone users (unabated), smokers, parents, and retirees on our roads -- the evidence of a need to act is stronger.

I understand tbat the General Assembly is obsessed with medical cannabis, and would much rather invent problems relating to it than to deal with the fiscal (rather, constitutional) crisis brought on by TABOR or any of the other real problems we face. I believe Rep. Gardner when he expresses the general attitude in the House -- since you are determined to act wrongly in this matter, limit your perversion of the Law to the extent of stating that blood levels of 5 ng/ml of THC in blood indicates recent usage of cannabis. To claim that having such levels constitutes evidence of driving impairment would be to enshrine yet another lie in our statutes.

Rep, Levy (and all the other lawyers in the House, no doubt) are very enamoured of the idea that making an explicit reference to blood levels serves as a "bright line" for those who enforce the laws -- for Colorado as a whole what this law represents is an open invitation to law enforcement to stop drivers, then demand their blood, and to arrest even more people. Amending the criminal code in this manner with no evidence of a problem is not just reactionary, it is entirely irrational, and it is a plan to waste our state's resources just when we need to be far more parsimonious with them. Against the backdrop of our state's fiscal crisis and the prison crisis brought on by your criminalization of more and more Coloradans, this proposal to wage war by misdemeanor and the DMV against so many people is just obscene -- it is difficult to fathom how so pointlessly self-destructive a public policy could be espoused by an elective body supposed to represent all our people. Promulgating the fiction that drivers who have consumed cannabis pose a threat to public safety on the highways will have substantial and open-ended monetary and human costs, it will not improve safety on the roads, and our General Assembly should not be involved in foisting off Prohibitionist lies as law for the sole purpose of agrandizing the prison-industrial complex.


Robert D. Chase

Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana grow limits go before Denver City Council: MMJ advocate predicts fix is in."