Medical marijuana: THC driving limits sponsor voted for one standard, prefers different one

Update: Last week, we spoke to Representative Claire Levy, sponsor of a bill to set THC driving limits. She had originally set the standard at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood; then, after listening to the concerns of medical marijuana community members, she backed an amendment changing the number to 8 nanograms. After the amendment failed, she said she was uncertain if she would vote for the bill with the original number -- but in the end, she wound up doing so. Why?

"I felt, on balance, it was better to have a per se limit set in law than to leave things the way they were," she says. "And I did want to send it on to the Senate, and have the Senate take another look at it."

Does that mean Levy would still feel more comfortable with the limit at 8 nanograms, as opposed to 5 nanograms? Yes -- but she stops short of actively lobbying senators to take up the 8 nanogram cause.

"It's not my place as a member of the House to tell the senators what to do," she maintains. "But if anybody asked me what I thought about it, I would tell them I offered that [the 8 nanogram standard] in the House, that I thought it was supportable, and that I'd support it if it came out of the Senate that way."

For more details, check out our earlier coverage, seen here.

Update below original item, published on the morning of March 23: There's been an unusual turn of events regarding HB 1261, a bill to impose THC driving limits.

Sponsoring Representative Claire Levy is now unsure if she can support the measure, even though little about the legislation has changed. Why? She's having doubts about the THC level she initially defended.

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HB 1261 establishes an impairment limit of 5 nanograms of THC per mililiter of blood -- a standard Levy portrayed as fair in a Westword interview linked above. However, many medical marijuana advocates disagreed with the digit at a hearing earlier this month, arguing that patients who naturally have higher THC levels may be unable to drive at all if the rule is imposed. Another opponent, attorney Rob Corry, argued that the measure violated both the Colorado constitution and the Americans With Disabilities Act, because it discriminated against those using MMJ under a doctor's recommendation.

Levy listened to these complaints.

"There was enough concern in the medical marijuana community about the impact of a per se limit, and enough uncertainty in the research about the causal relationship between marijuana and accidents, that I thought we should err on the side of caution in this very new kind of legislation," she says.

Hence, Levy offered an amendment to change the limit from 5 nanograms to 8 nanograms during the proposal's second reading yesterday. But Representative Mark Waller, Levy's co-sponsor on the bill, "opposed it pretty strenuously," she notes, "and the police chiefs were very actively lobbying against it." Moreover, the chair of the House judiciary committee, Representative Bob Gardner, went so far as to suggest moving the bar to 2 nanograms.

"I don't think he was actually serious about that," Levy allows. "But he put 5 nanograms in the title of the bill," in an attempt to "prevent a change in the nanogram levels."

This strategy could backfire. With a third reading in the House likely to take place tomorrow or Friday prior to the bill heading to the Senate, "I cautioned Representative Gardner that changing the title may cause the whole bill to die if there's some sentiment not to have it start out at 5 nanograms. If the title's so tight it can't be changed, the only recourse may just be to kill the bill."

Such an end isn't one Levy favors. "I think there's an intuitive feeling that a limit is appropriate," she says. "I've had a lot of questions about whether the limit in the bill is the right limit, but I think most people don't question the basic premise."

Still, when asked if she might find herself in the position of voting against her own bill because the standard remains at 5 nanograms, she says, "I'm going to have to give it really serious thought. I don't know."

Update, 3:01 p.m. Wednesday, March 23: In the interview above, Levy predicted that the third reading of the bill, before the full House, would take place tomorrow or Friday. In fact, according to the Cannabis Therapy Institute, the measure reached this stage earlier today -- and it passed by a margin of 51-14. Levy was in the majority, choosing in the end to vote in favor of the bill despite her misgivings about the 5 nanogram standard.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical Marijuana Industry Group's Michael Elliott on the organization, THC driving limits."

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