THC driving bill on hold: William Breathes blood test results a factor, advocate says

Yesterday, shortly before a senate committee took on a bill to set THC driving limits, Westword published the results of medical marijuana reviewer William Breathes's blood test, which showed he was almost three times over the proposed standard when sober. The committee subsequently decided to delay the measure -- and at least one advocate says Breathes's post was a major factor.

HB 1261, the bill in question, had already been okayed by the Colorado House, even though its original sponsor, Representative Claire Levy, admitted to concern that the limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood might actually be too strict. She proposed an amendment changing the level to 8 nanograms, but it was defeated -- and she ultimately voted in favor of the 5 nanogram mark in order to give the senate a chance to consider it further.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were able to add Breathes's post to the information they were considering thanks to the Cannabis Therapy Institute, whose Laura Kriho sent it to them shortly after its publication; she just happened to stumble upon it while checking our news landing page, The Latest Word. And while Kriho was unable to attend the hearing itself, she knows from debriefings by fellow advocates on hand that the results were also noted in public testimony -- something the Denver Post pointed out in its coverage, linked above. "It was definitely a factor," she says.

Not that it was the only one. "The research just isn't there," she maintains. "Even the sponsor herself [Levy] said she the research was all over the place -- and I know she got a lot of pressure in her district. And I know the senators got an awful lot of letters from patients -- serious letters."

In addition, Kriho notes, "someone broke down crying yesterday, because they thought it was going to negatively affect their life by taking away their drivers license.

"Everyone felt this was a bill that targeted patients," she goes on. "At the first hearing, they tried to say it didn't. But at this one, law enforcement said the incidents had increased in the two years since the medical marijuana registry grew so much. So it was clearly targeted at patients."

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In the end, the judiciary committee voted 6-3 to give HB 1261 more study -- and Kriho hopes they'll address the question, "Is there a problem at all? We never saw a need for a THC nanogram limit, because it's too subjective, and it affects people different. Our position is that we should go back to the FDA warning on Marinol, which is synthetic THC. That says don't drive a motor vehicle on Marinol until you see how it affects you.

"Legislators want to put a bright line -- that's what they keep calling it -- for law enforcement, so they can clearly arrest people for DUI. But there is no bright line for THC that determines impairment. The only thing that can really determine impairment is a behavioral test, as opposed to a chemical test." Indeed, Kriho, who's part of Legalize2012.com, a campaign to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana, says a ban of chemical testing for cannabis will be part of the ballot proposal.

Kriho warns that HB 1261 "is not dead. It has to go to the appropriations committee, and the original language could come back at any time -- all the way up until May 11. So we need to keep those letters coming."

Last month, Greg Goldfogel, a member of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, advised advocates not to disrupt the process by contacting lawmakers considering a bill pertaining to medical marijuana edibles. But Kriho feels HB 1261 might have passed had people not raised their voices.

"They clearly were listening to their constituents -- and we need to keep the pressure on them. This time, science won out over reefer madness -- temporarily, anyway. But it's a guarded victory, because this is clearly not dead."

More from our Marijuana archive: "THC driving limits could cause more innocent people to spend months in jail, attorney says."

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