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Marijuana: Will DUI lab issues keep risky (or innocent) drivers on road for months?

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A report released by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers about problems at the state's toxicology lab led to the decision to suspend blood tests for alcohol and drugs beginning today until the issues can be addressed.

During the interim, private labs will conduct such tests. But one prominent lawyer -- a harsh critic of Cindy Burbach, the lab's previous overseer -- fears the switch will further delay tests that are often slow in coming under ordinary circumstances.

"We've usually been waiting about sixty days to get blood results from the state," says attorney Sean McAllister, a member of the legal committee for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). "And the state can't seek to revoke someone's license until they get the blood results. So the practical effect is, it may take six months to revoke someone's license already. And we don't know if there may be more delays now."

According to the Denver Post, blood testing typically handled by the state lab will be sent, at least for now, to one of six private labs certified to conduct such analyses. But only half that total have the certification necessary to test blood for drugs, including THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. And given last year's vote in favor of Amendment 64 and this year's passage of House Bill 1114, which establishes a THC intoxication standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, some observers think the number of driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs arrests could swell, thereby placing additional strain on an already shaky system.

That's one of many factors concerning McAllister. For instance, he's also worried that private lab owners who'll now be testifying on behalf of the state are ideological twins with Burbach, an anti-pot crusader who argued passionately for THC limits like the one in HB 1114 despite what some observers see as a lack of scientific evidence supporting them.

As for whether these labs will be able to keep up with the testing demand suddenly thrust upon them by troubles at the state toxicology facility, he admits that "I really don't know the answer to that," since the number of tests may or may not fluctuate due to the new law. But he doesn't expect things to move quickly.

"Some people who aren't actually a danger, because they weren't really impaired, may get another six months or more of driving -- so it may be good for them," he allows. "But it also could mean chronic drunk drivers may be able to continue driving for months and months and months. And that could be bad for public safety."

Editor's note: The original version of this post inaccurately stated that the report on the toxicology lab was "by" Colorado Attorney General John Suthers's office. In truth, the office merely released the report, which was assembled by the Mountain States Employers Council. The reference has been corrected; we regret the error.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Was damning report on DUI lab delayed because of THC driving bill?"

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