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Update: It appeared dead, but SB 117 has risen from the grave: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper selected it as one of seven bills


Colorado Lawmakers Balk at THC Blood Limit DUI Law (UPDATE: SB 117 Back From the Dead)

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Update: It appeared dead, but SB 117 has risen from the grave: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper selected it as one of seven bills that will be addressed in a special legislative session. Additional details after the jump.

The Colorado state legislature failed to act last week on a proposal to establish a THC blood limit for impaired drivers. The measure was nearly identical to the DUI provision included in I-502, the Washington ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Senate Bill 117 was just one of two dozen bill that were "sacrificed," as the Denver Post put it, while the state's lawmakers were stuck debating civil unions. The marijuana DUI bill was on the verge of heading to the governor for final approval, but legislative gridlock prevented a time-sensitive "second-reading vote," needed to keep the proposal moving forward. The delay effectively killed the bill for 2012.

More from the Denver Post:

The proposal would have made it illegal to drive with more than a certain amount of THC -- the psychoactive chemical in marijuana -- in your system. The limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood that the bill proposed would have been similar to the .08 blood-alcohol standard for drunk driving.

Supporters said the bill was scientifically sound and was needed to send a message that driving stoned is not OK. Opponents said the limit was too low and would have resulted in near-certain convictions of sober drivers.

If that sounds familiar, it's because a similar debate has been raging here in Washington ever since I-502 secured a spot on the November ballot. If approved by voters, the initiative would enact driving restrictions nearly identical to those proposed in Colorado, in addition to legalizing, taxing, and selling pot in state-run stores to anyone over the age of 21.

A bill and a ballot initiative are completely different beasts, but the scenario that unfolded in Colorado (the bill passed in the state Senate and requisite House committee, but it was not endorsed by Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and drew strong opposition from the medical marijuana industry) shows just how polarizing the THC blood limit issue can be. In Washington, it remains to be seen whether the stoned driving provision in I-502 will ultimately woo moderate voters as supporters hope, or backfire by turning away too many would-be supporters in the pot activist and medical marijuana communities.

UPDATE, Monday, May 14 @ 9:46 a.m.

Colorado's legislative session ended last Wednesday with SB 117 seemingly dead as a doornail, but Gov. John Hickenlooper breathed new life into the measure. The bill is one of seven that will be considered by state lawmakers in a special legislative session that begins this week. Hickenlooper has indicated he'll sign the bill if (or perhaps rather when) it crosses his desk.

NORML -- which has endorsed Washington's I-502 despite concerns about the DUI provision -- is lobbying against the Colorado law, and has more details:

The measure had previously passed the Senate by a contentious 18 to 17 vote. It then passed several House Committees and appeared to have the necessary votes needed to pass the full House.

Senate Bill 117 amends state law to redefine "DUI per se"; to include "driving when the driver's blood contains more than 5 nanograms or more of delta-9-THC per milliliter in whole blood." It inappropriately lowers the state's existing burden of proof necessary to gain a criminal conviction. It further states, "[I]f at the time of the commission of the alleged offense, or within two hours thereafter, ... the defendant's blood contains over five or more nanograms of delta-9-THC per milliliter in whole blood, such fact gives rise to the permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence of drugs."

Last year, lawmakers rejected a similar proposal. This summer, a special legislative work group also failed to endorse such a per se standard.

NORML's beef with SB 117 is that it "seeks to criminalize anyone who operated a motor vehicle with trace amounts of THC in their blood, regardless of whether their psychomotor performance is demonstrably impaired."

NORML deputy director Paul Armentano notes that this isn't the first time SB 117 has had a Michael Myers moment. "By my count, this bill has already 'died' twice this session," Armentano writes in an email to Daily Weekly. "It was 'killed' by the Senate in a voice vote, then called back and passed by one vote after a reconsideration -- but somehow [it] keeps rising from the dead."

Armentano adds that lawmakers in both Florida and California rejected proposed THC blood limit DUI laws this year.

With state legislatures across the country considering "per se" marijuana DUI laws, perhaps the take home message for Washington is that such restrictions could ultimately be enacted here regardless of whether or not voters approve I-502 this November.

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