Crime

Medical marijuana led to crash that killed John Page Hines?: Inside Joshua Wittig investigation

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Officer Matt Barnes of the Thornton Police Department says that toxicology reports on Wittig, eighteen, are pending, but drug paraphernalia with marijuana residue was found in his vehicle, a Nissan SUV that collided with the motorcycle being ridden by Hines. He adds that the North Metro Drug Task Force is "trying to determine where the suspected driver got his marijuana -- and there are allegations they're looking into that it was possibly medical marijuana."

Task force Commander Jerry Peters confirms that such an investigation is underway.

"It's our understanding that the suspect in the case is a self-proclaimed medical marijuana patient who didn't fill out all the paperwork -- that he got a doctor's recommendation from a Boulder clinic for back pain and then took a partially filled-out application to a dispensary," Peters says. "We're trying to see if there's a loophole in the system that hasn't been recognized where people are trying to buy marijuana illegally, or if this is somebody who's in the system who hasn't been verified yet. We're still in the investigative stages, but we know the medical use of marijuana is involved in the case."

The amount of marijuana in Wittig's system wouldn't matter under current law, although that could change, according to Peters.

"The way I understand it, any illegal substance in the system would be deemed to be impairment," he maintains. "But I think there's going to be a bill in the next legislative system that's going to look at a nanogram limit."

According to Peters, some states have set standards for marijuana impairment similar to familiar ones involving alcohol. For instance, this article from Pennyslvania reports that state's standard for impairment is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

"Initially, from a drug investigator's standpoint, I was opposed to something like that," Peters concedes. "But something like this allows people to better understand the levels of intoxication. I don't even know what a nanogram is. But if we could tell someone that, say, five nanograms of marijuana in the system was like someone driving at a .20 blood-alcohol intoxication level -- and I'm not sure that's the case, I'm only giving an example -- I think people would understand it better."

Shoring up the regulations is important, Peters notes, because he foresees a rise in marijuana-related traffic fatalities. "This was a very unfortunate and tragic incident," he says, "And I think we can expect these kinds of things to increase because of the increased use of marijuana. It's been my experience that most people involved in these types of things [marijuana use] are not necessarily always responsible with it, and they have to understand it's not a license to drive a vehicle. Most people understand that, but like with alcohol, some of them still do it. And that compounds the problem we already have with alcohol."

Page down to read a Thornton PD release about the crash and see a larger version of Wittig's mug shot.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts