THC driving bill killed in plot that snuffed out civil unions measure

Last night, as One Colorado's Jace Woodrum noted during a talk with supporters, GOP leaders in the House sacrificed dozens of other measures in order to kill a civil unions bill. Prominent among them was the controversial THC driving bill, a version of which died last year. The result was a stunning reversal for Senator Steve King-sponsored legislation that seemed virtually guaranteed of passage.

As we've reported, the bill, shorthanded as SB 117, would have established a per se THC impairment limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, with "per se" setting the sort of bright line that translates to instant guilt in the eyes of the law. Opponents raise questions about the usefulness of the standard, in part because THC tends to linger in the system of users. For example, medical marijuana reviewer William Breathes registered at nearly triple that level when sober during a test last year.

Such evidence led to the original bill being shelved in lieu of further analysis -- but the concept was revived by King. Although his version originally established an impairment standard regarding Schedule I and II drugs, that section was stripped out due to its high cost of implementation. And while the arguments for and against the measure didn't change much from one year to the next, the results did. Senator Nancy Spence, who'd supported further study in 2011, became a King ally, resulting in the bill passing the Senate by an 18-17 vote -- and the Republican majority in the House made its approval by that chamber a seeming lock.

But no. After sailing through the House Appropriations Committee by a 9-4 vote yesterday, SB 117 only needed a second reading by midnight to qualify for a full House vote today. However, due to the wrangling over civil unions, it didn't receive one. This technicality kills the measure for this term.

Of course, the concept can always rise again. In the meantime, though, opponents of the standard have won at least a temporary reprieve.

During the wee hours of the morning, Michael Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, sent Westword the following statement:

"Colorado's current DUID law, which bans driving while impaired to the slightest degree, has been successful and fair," he writes. "We support Colorado's current law, which has a 90 percent conviction rate and has led to a 19 percent reduction in traffic fatalities over the last four years."

Elliott adds that "we will continue partnering with state agencies, such as the Colorado Department of Transportation, to build awareness about the dangers of drugged driving, and to help make our roads safer."

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More from our Politics archive: "THC driving bill approved by Colorado Senate."

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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