In a marathon hearing that stretched from the early afternoon until the late evening, a bill to establish THC driving standards was approved by a Senate committee yesterday in a 4-1 vote.
The measure, sponsored by Senator Steve King, right, would set five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as an impairment standard -- the equivalent of .08 blood alcohol content for alcohol.
A driving-standards bill died in Senate last year after legislators raised questions about the scientific data, or lack thereof, to show that the five nanogram blood test was an effective measure of impairment. Opponents of the proposal argued that, unlike alcohol, THC can linger in the blood for days after using and levels can build up in a regular user.
Yesterday, the resurrected debate looked similar: Bill supporters were typically law enforcement officials referencing still hazy technical evidence, while opponents included pot activists asking the committee to wait until sufficient data is released. But both sides agreed that driving while high should still be illegal.
Marijuana activist Corey Donahue, who was credited with helping to derail last year's bill, testified again last night, declaring the measure unconstitutional. "Why are the only people supporting a bill that would essentially imprison and arrest innocent people, the same people enforcing our laws?" he asked. "And I'm just questioning this because this whole thing seems as if the state and the law enforcement officials of the state are trying to criminalize people's conduct with no science to back it up."
Plasma results from Westword medical marijuana critic William Breathes-- whose blood had tested three times the legal amount while sober -- was also brought up.
In the end, the majority of the committee elected to move the legislation forward.
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"The privilege of smoking marijuana should stop at the vehicle door, but we want to wait," King said. "This legislation advocates for the families of the severely injured and the dead. It advocates for the preservation of future victims lives. It asks you to look and not wait."
"I am not inclined to wait any longer," concurred Senator Betty Boyd, who co-sponsored the bill last year. "There was scientific evidence last year; there seems to be more this year."
Senator Bob Bacon, who was undecided going into the hearing, was persuaded to approve the bill due to the "safeguard of probable cause." The measure would only authorize law enforcement to request a blood test after having probable cause to do so.
"I want to really believe law enforcement agents that they have to go through a several-step process in order to determine probable cause," Bacon says. "I think there are people out there who say it's just done willy-nilly, and I don't believe that's true. And so the whole idea of a whole prosecution of even a trial by jury will bring that out."
Senator Tim Neville was the only committee member to oppose the bill. "I was a little shocked by the lack of medical data from the supporters, and that has helped me make up my mind," he said. "I do not want to put people in a situation where they are facing imprisonment or extra fines or whatever else it must be because we don't have all the information this time."
Following a voice vote, dissatisfied opponents of the bill chanted, "Shame! Shame!" as they filed out of the courtroom.
The bill is expected to head next to the Senate appropriation committee before it is forwarded to a full chamber.
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Look below and page down to see more photos of bill opponents, including members of the International Food and Commercial Workers union. Also on view: The most recent version of the measure, designated as Senate Bill 12-117.
Click to see more photos and a copy of the bill.
More from our Marijuana archive: "THC driving bill may be hard to kill despite iffy science, senator says."