Medical marijuana: Rep. Claire Levy talks about HB 1261, which sets driving limits for THC

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Last December, Representative Claire Levy floated the idea of a bill setting a marijuana-impairment standard for Colorado drivers.

This notion has coalesced into HB 1261, which establishes an impairment limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood; read it below. Levy's already heard from advocates who oppose the bill, but she defends the need for the measure and the standard it uses.

One fear among medical marijuana advocates is that the 5 nanogram level is so low that patients may register positive even if they haven't been actively using medication for quite some time. But Levy begs to differ.

"I'd point people to some of the studies that show that unless people are actively consuming medical marijuana while they're driving, or right before they're driving, either by inhaling it or eating it, they will not have 5 nanograms per milliliter in their system," she says. "If people really dig into the research and compare apples to apples, I think they'll see that their concern is not legitimate."

Moreover, she notes that of the states that have established THC impairment limits, "the standards range from zero tolerance, which is what we have right now for all practical purposes, to 2 nanograms in some states and 5 nanograms in a number of other states. So 5 nanograms is the most liberal level that any state has adopted.

"I would also say there were a number of advocates for a lower limit in Colorado," she continues. "Some people wanted us to go with the 2 nanograms level, but I didn't feel that was warranted, given that this is new territory. I wouldn't support it going lower than 5 nanograms."

In regard to questions about the need for such a measure, Levy says, "There are reports that as many as 20 percent of the people stopped who have their blood tested are under the influence of marijuana. I don't have my own personal data on that, and I acknowledge that a lot of that is anecdotal. But in general, the reason for the bill is that with more widespread use and increasing public tolerance for the use of marijuana, it's important to be sure public safety is protected on the highways.

"I don't have any objection to more liberal laws on marijuana use and possession,a nd I don't have any objection whatsoever to the medicinal use of marijuana. I've been one of the most friendly legislators on this issue. But I think we also have to make sure that we're keeping up with the need for public safety."

At this point, Levy, a Democrat, is hoping for broad bipartisan support for HB 1261. As she points out, "Representative Mark Waller [a Republican] is the co-sponsor in the House, and Senator Steve King [also a Republican] will sponsor it in the Senate."

Levy adds, "I have tried to be very fair and objective about the data in terms of being sure there is actually scientific support for a 5 nanogram limit. I know this is a controversial issue and many people have concerns, and I'm not dismissing those concerns. But I think it is time we address marijuana as a drug people may be using while driving, and I think we've come up with the fairest possible solution."

Page down to read HB 1261, as well as to see a Cannabis Therapy Institute release criticizing the measure.

HB 1261:

Cannabis Therapy Institute release:

Medical Marijuana Patients May Lose Driving Privileges

ACTION ALERT: Stop HB 11-1261, the THC/DUI Bill

In the third major attack on medical marijuana patient rights in Colorado to come out of the state legislature this year, House Bill 11-1261 was introduced on Mon., Feb. 14, 2011. This bill would declare that anyone found driving with 5 nanogram/milliliters or more of THC in their bloodstream would be guilty of "DUI per se" and subject to a misdemeanor offense and the possible revocation of their driver's license.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) and Rep. Mark Waller (R-El Paso County), both members of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill was introduced by Rep. Levy, an attorney, in order to curb an imaginary crisis of "stoned drivers" in Colorado. Despite repeated requests from CTI, Rep. Levy has failed to point to one case where marijuana was the sole cause of any traffic accident.

Research shows that there is no correlation between THC blood levels and impairment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a study in 2004 which shows that chronic cannabis users, such as medical marijuana patients, normally average a much higher concentration of THC in their bloodstream than 5 ng/mL AND that this does not necessarily cause impairment. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/job185drugs/cannabis.htm

Dr. Robert J. Meladmede, a University of Colorado biology professor and CEO of Colorado Springs-based Cannabis Science, says the Rep. Levy's thinking on this is backwards. He stated that casual users will have often have lower levels than 5 ng/mL and may actually be impaired, while frequent users will have higher levels in their bloodstream, yet not be impaired. Click here to read Dr. Bob's full letter and research: http://www.cannabistherapyinstitute.com/bills/dui/drbob.let.html

NANOGRAM LIMIT ARBITRARY, NOT OBJECTIVE Rep. Levy states that currently there is no nanogram limit on THC and that currently any amount of THC is enough to prove impairment. She believes that setting a limit will make the law more objective. However, in the absence of any problem, this will only make it easier for courts to convict patients of impaired driving, whether they were actually impaired or not. Instead of setting an arbitrary limit on THC in the bloodstream, more research needs to be done on better roadside impairment tests and training, to help determine whether people are impaired from any cause. There is no nanogram limit for oxycontin or other drugs that may impair drivers. Medical marijuana patients are once again treated like second-class citizens for their choice of medicine. Rep. Levy wants to force cannabis patients back onto their prescription medications, which are not routinely tested for by law enforcement.

FORCED BLOOD EXTRACTION This bill will also force anyone suspected of driving under the influence of THC to give their blood to the government. Currently, a suspected impaired driver has the choice of a urine test or a blood test. Since the nanogram limits can only be tested for in the blood, patients will be subjected to an involuntary extraction of their blood if they are ever stopped by the police.

DMV TO ISSUE PATIENT ID CARDS The Department of Revenue stated last year that they intended to issue their new medical marijuana patient ID cards through the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles. Will patients now be asked to surrender their driver's licenses when they apply for a medical marijuana card? This is another example of the state requiring you to surrender your Constitutional rights to cannabis medicine in exchange for the "privilege" of driving.

THIRD MEDICAL MARIJUANA ATTACK BILL This is the third bill introduced in the state legislature this year attacking the rights of patients (HB1243, the Patient Rights Elimination "Cleanup Bill", HB1250, the Medical Marijuana Edible Products Ban, and HB1261, the Medical Marijuana DUI Bill). All have been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. If you haven't written them yet on these bills, please do so now. See below.

DONATIONS REQUESTED The medical marijuana industry gave $10 million to the state in application fees last year. That money is now being used to eliminate the industry, destroy patient rights, and put MMC's out of business. CTI is committed to fighting industry over-regulation and preserving patient rights. If you are an MMC-applicant, please become a CTI sponsor and become a partner in the fight to protect patient rights and your business livelihood. If you are a patient, please ask your MMC-applicant to support CTI. WE NEED YOUR HELP -- Please be generous. http://www.cannabistherapyinstitute.com/donate.html

CALL AND EMAIL HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE Sample letter to House Judiciary Committee "Please vote no on HB1261 and do more research on the bill to set a nanogram limit on cannabis. There is no evidence showing a link between THC blood concentration and impairment. Other drugs that impair people, like oxycontin, do not have nanogram limits. This bill is unfair to medical marijuana patients and will force patients back on prescription medications that do not have nanogram levels and are not routinely tested for by the police. Please at least include an exemption for medical marijuana patients."

COPY AND PASTE EMAILS: bob.gardner.house@state.co.us, mark.barker.house@state.co.us, brian@briandelgrosso.com, crisanta.duran.house@state.co.us,repkagan@gmail.com, pete.lee.house@state.co.us, claire.levy.house@state.co.us, rep.nikkel@gmail.com, su.ryden.house@state.co.us, jerry.sonnenberg.house@state.co.us, mark.waller.house@state.co.us, info@cannabistherapyinstitute.com

Please send CTI copies of any letters you send: info@cannabistherapyinstitute.com

Contact your local Reps too: http://www.leg.state.co.us/

House Judiciary Committee Members Phone and Email

BOB GARDNER, Chair Colorado State Representative, District 21 Capitol Phone: (303)866-2191 E-Mail: bob.gardner.house@state.co.us

MARK BARKER, Vice Chair Colorado State Representative, District 17 Capitol Phone: 303-866-3069 E-Mail: mark.barker.house@state.co.us

BRIAN DELGROSSO Colorado State Representative, District 51 Capitol Phone: (303)866-2947 E-Mail: brian@briandelgrosso.com

CRISANTA DURAN Colorado State Representative, District 5 Capitol Phone: 303-866-2925 E-Mail: crisanta.duran.house@state.co.us

DANIEL KAGAN Colorado State Representative, District 3 Capitol Phone: (303)866-2921 E-Mail: repkagan@gmail.com

PETE LEE Colorado State Representative, District 18 Capitol Phone: 303-866-2932 E-Mail: pete.lee.house@state.co.us

CLAIRE LEVY -- SPONSOR Minority Whip Colorado State Representative, District 13 Capitol Phone: (303)866-2578 E-Mail: claire.levy.house@state.co.us

B.J. NIKKEL Majority Whip Colorado State Representative, District 49 Phone: 303-866-2907 E-mail: rep.nikkel@gmail.com

SU RYDEN Asssistant Minority Caucus Chair Colorado State Representative, District 36 Capitol Phone: 303-866-2942 E-mail: su.ryden.house@state.co.us

JERRY SONNENBERG Colorado State Representative, District 65 Capitol Phone: 303-866-3706 Email: jerry.sonnenberg.house@state.co.us

MARK WALLER -- SPONSOR Assistant Majority Leader Colorado State Representative, District 15 Capitol Phone: (303)866-5525 E-Mail: mark.waller.house@state.co.us

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Video of rep shredding MMJ amendment shows no spitting by advocate."

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