Marijuana working group decides not to recommend specific THC driving limits

The DUID-marijuana working group, formed under the auspices of the state's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, met yesterday afternoon to consider recommendations about setting THC driving standard. After about three hours of hashing out a lot about hash, members eventually decided not to back a specific blood limit.

Most members of the group seemed to support a per-se level at which a person would be considered intoxicated due to ganja consumption. But differing opinions about how high or low that limit should be, or if it would do anything at all to protect the general public, kept that discussion at a stalemate, forcing the group to move forward only with the suggestion that the matter be revisited in the future when more data is available.

The group's suggestions will be presented next Wednesday to the Drug Policy Task Force, which in turn will give its suggestions to the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The CCJJ was the group originally charged with examining the issue after House Bill 1261 was defeated last April.

The marijuana working group is comprised of marijuana attorney Sensible Colorado co-founder Sean McAllister, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, Heather Garwood of the Colorado Judicial Department, Christine Flavia from the Division of Behavioral Health, Colorado Springs cop Rod Walker, Eagle County DA Mark Hurlbert, drug-addiction counselor Laura Spicer, and the Medical Marijuana Industry Group's Michael Elliott.

This hodgepodge caused a stir earlier this month after their meetings seemingly flew under the radar of local activists, who insist they were conducted in secret and are a violation of open meetings laws (read Michael Roberts's coverage here and here). The activists had their chance to speak their mind this round, with Robert Chase, Kathleen Chippi, Corey Donahue and caregiver Timothy Tipton all giving the board a piece of their frustrated minds. Several people brought up the legality of past meetings, with Chase arguing that the group should start all six meetings over to allow for more public comment.

The activists continued to show their disapproval of the proceedings throughout the meeting, reacting loudly at times to comments they didn't like. Chase, for example, was told to be quiet or leave after he corrected Robinson, who had said a large majority of patients are "twenty-somethings males." According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the average age for a male cardholder is forty.

After the comments, members went into a lengthy discussion, touching on various points they had agreed on in earlier meetings. Among them: the need for more in-the-field Drug Recognition Experts (DRE), making offenders pay for the associated legal costs, and supporting public education programs -- all of which were later approved to move forward as suggestions to the task force.

However, the group couldn't come to a consensus on whether or not blood levels are an indicator of intoxication. McAllister argued again and again that the data from a key study was an insufficient basis for a law. He pointed to parts of the same research that said impairment might occur with an individual with just 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood, while another person might be unimpaired until he registered 15 nanograms. McAllister also said a per-se limit would do little for public safety, since law enforcement wouldn't be able to get the results of a blood test on the spot. A better use of resources, he said, would be for more DREs in the field.

Garwood couldn't back a per-se limit, either -- not because she felt the data wasn't there to support it, but because she felt the 5 nanogram limit would be too high and that it would promote people smoking pot and driving as a result. Given the amount of time it normally takes to get a blood sample drawn on a DUI suspect, she felt a 2 nanogram limit was more appropriate.

Her lower-levels idea stuck with Hurlbert, who argued for the per-se limits. He said that driving while drugged is a growing issue that several other district attorneys have noticed as well. Though he said it wasn't likely that driving under the influence of marijuana was widespread, he feared it could become commonplace.

Robinson was also against a per-se limit, though reluctantly so. He said it less to do with the science than with his concern that the federal government would withhold federal highway dollars from the state for supporting anything other than zero tolerance.

"Last year, I supported the 5 nanogram limit, and I supported it strongly," he said. "I'm not sure that we are going to see, coming into the next legislative session, anyone that would be willing to push forward with administrative sanctions and consequences because of the always looming fiscal threat. I believe we should have a per-se law in the state of Colorado, but sadly, I'm not sure I know what that nanongram limit is. Frankly, that is my biggest difficulty with this process."

Robinson said the group's findings and suggestions would be typed up in a format consistent with the CCJJ and distributed to group members by Friday evening. The group will present their findings at the Drug Policy Task Force meeting next Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Dr. Eric Hatch's Dougco court case could challenge dispensary bans."

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes