A bill that would have given Colorado law enforcement officers more leeway when charging drivers with marijuana and drug DUIs was withdrawn by the measure's own sponsor this week.
State Representative Dylan Roberts, a Democrat and deputy prosecutor in Eagle County, had introduced House Bill 1146, a proposal to allow police to arrest drivers "for the presumption that a driver is under the influence of marijuana," on January 29. Two weeks later, Roberts pulled the bill before its first committee vote.
"We've been having a lot of meetings on this bill. We had stakeholder meetings, and met with people from the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and medical marijuana patient community. I appreciated and really learned a lot from the conversation, and have taken their suggestion and feedback," Roberts says. "What we were trying to do with the law wasn't really workable with this bill, and it would've had unintended consequences that I wouldn't support as a legislator."
The bill proposed creating a new traffic offense, tandem DUI per se, which would have allowed police to arrest drivers if there was "evidence to believe that a driver had consumed alcohol or drugs, that the driver was substantially incapable of safely operating a vehicle, and that the driver had any measurable amount of a drug in his or her blood or oral fluid."
At the House Judiciary Committee meeting on February 12, Roberts pulled the bill.
Current procedures for detecting marijuana impairment are wonky at best; drivers can be charged with a DUI if they have more than 5 nanograms of THC in their systems. However, studies have shown that habitual users will test above 5 nanograms even when they're not impaired, while occasional users could be significantly impaired an hour or two after smoking, despite testing below the limit.
The bill would have replaced Colorado's nanogram limit with a more personalized measure for impairment, with drivers eligible for a DUI if any trace of marijuana or other drugs was detected in their systems after a police officer perceived them as impaired.
Although Roberts maintains that the measure would not have made it easier for police to find probable cause, advocates for marijuana consumers and MMJ patients had argued that the proposal could have created unintended consequences, such as unjust arrests of marijuana consumers and members of minority groups. Critics said that providing more power to law enforcement when the science is so unclear was not the right approach.
"In order to measure impairment, we have to define it first. So defining impairment should be the focus point of a lot of research," explains Ashley Weber, director of the Colorado branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Oral fluids and metabolites are not accurate. We can't move forward with science that is not accurate and force people to have to pay for attorneys."
Marijuana advocacy groups such as Coloradans for Safe Access and Colorado NORML voiced their opposition to the bill during a public stakeholder meeting that Roberts held at the State Capitol. Soon after, Roberts pulled the bill, winning praise from Weber.
"Dylan Roberts took our concerns into consideration and expressed the same concerns for medical marijuana patients and those on everyday prescription drugs as well," Weber says. "It takes a good leader to admit when they're wrong, instead of moving forward with language that doesn't please anybody but their own egos. That was definitely something I haven't seen at the legislature."
While he didn't want the legislation to disproportionately impact anyone, Roberts says he will continue to encourage conversations about road safety. "The bill probably won't be revisited this year, but I think we need to continually be having conversations about making our roads safer," he says. "I'm really grateful when people provide feedback. I heard them, I hear them still, and I will work with anyone who wants to make our roads safer."
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