Melanie Brinegar Acquitted of Driving Stoned — and Here's Why

After Melanie Brinegar was cited for driving under the influence of drugs last year, a blood test showed that she was nearly four times over the legal limit for THC.

Yet a jury has now acquitted her of any wrongdoing.

What led to this verdict? Rather than accepting a plea bargain, Brinegar, a medical marijuana patient who works at RiverRock dispensary, vigorously (and publicly) fought the accusations against her — and she ultimately triumphed in part due to a key provision in the 2013 Colorado law that established levels for marijuana intoxication.

As we've reported, legislation from 2011 and 2012 would have established THC intoxication at five nanograms per milliliter of blood and made this standard per se — meaning that a test registering five nanograms or more would have been seen as irrefutable proof of intoxication.

In response, critics argued that because THC tends to linger in users for longer periods of time, it's next to impossible to determine actual impairment via a blood test, at least under presently available technology.

 An example: MMJ critic William Breathes's blood tested at nearly triple the legal limit fifteen hours after he last smoked, with a doctor declaring him to be sober.

The 2011 and 2012 measures were defeated, but advocates of THC limits didn't give up.

In 2013, the five nanogram limit was still part of the legislation, originally known as HB 1114, but the per se language vanished from the measure, sponsored by Representative Rhonda Fields. Instead, the text referred to "permissible inference," which would allow people who register at five nanograms or above to present other evidence in court to prove that they weren't actually impaired, rather than being considered guilty as a result of the test reading.

Marijuana attorney Rob Corry saw this change as only a slight improvement over the previous legislation, making the new proposal 95 percent bad as opposed to 100 percent. But the change gave Brinegar an opportunity to use the legal system to her advantage, and she took it.

On a GoFundMe page entitled "My Fight for Medical Rights," Brinegar tells the tale from her perspective:
Hello — my name is Melanie and I am a medical marijuana patient asking for your help in my fight for my medicine. My story begins 4 years ago when I almost died from an overdose of pharmaceuticals I was prescribed for degenerative disc disease, chronic severe pain, muscle spasms, depression and general anxiety disorder. Once this occurred, I decided to cease any and all use of pharmaceuticals and seek an alternative way to manage my afflictions and heal naturally. In October 2012 I suffered from a mild stroke, and after consulting with numerous doctors and wellness specialists I decided it was best for me to relocate to a state where cannanis is treated as a medicine and not a crime. In 2013 I moved to Colorado, and have thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful state and the amazing friends and colleagues I have encountered.

In July 2014 I was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. I gave all proper paperwork for my car, license, insurance to the officer. Upon doing so he asked about the scent of marijuana. I was honest and informed the officer that I am a cannabis patient and I work in the industry. I gave him my employee support badge #, my caregivers information, and my medical number. They asked for me to perform a roadside test after calling 4 additional officers for backup. I told the officers my medical conditions (degenerative disc disease, chronic severe pain, muscle spasms etc.) and still performed each test. The officer then arrested me for DUID. I gave my blood in which case they caused two exploded blood vessels in my left hand before taking me to the hospital for a phlebotomist to repeat the same procedure. After two pre-trial dates and not being able to obtain assistance I'm asking for the support of anyone to help me not lose the medicine that has saved my life.

I was not driving in a state which posed a threat to anyone, and all I want to do is put this behind me and continue to regulate my conditions in a state that permits the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Any and all funds I am able to gather from the generosity of supporters will go directly toward my attorney fees and court fines. Please help in any way you can.

I'm not the only one fighting alone and with your help we can win and help other patients like myself wrongfully accused. I sincerely appreciate your help and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In an update on the page shared earlier this year, Brinegar wrote, "I have a lawyer in place and we are building the case. Without your help I might not have been able to have representatiom and this fight is important for more than just myself, it is about medical patients."

At Brinegar's request, the lawyer in question, Colin McCallin, turned down a plea bargain. According to Fox31, whose story about Brinegar is on view below, she rejected the deal because it would have required her to give up medical marijuana use for as long as two years. 

McCallin, in his comments to the station, notes that when Brinegar was pulled over for an expired license plate tag, she wasn't weaving or driving erratically, and he argued in court that she performed roadside sobriety tests in a manner similar to people who are entirely sober.

This approach won over the jury, which acquitted Brinegar last week. Expect future MMJ patients in similar situations to consider using her defense as a model for their own.

Here's the Fox31 piece.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.