Pubdate: Thu, 03 May 2012
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2012 Summit Daily News
Author: Caddie Nath


Colorado Senate Gives First OK on Bill

Although it is illegal, arrests for driving while impaired by 
marijuana are rare in Summit County.

"Our numbers are staggeringly low," undersheriff Derek Woodman said.

Convictions for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) are low 
too, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said.

But a proposed state measure limiting the amount of THC a driver can 
have in his or her system could change that.

"We get a lot of not guilties," Hurlbert said. "When we talk to the 
juries, they say we want a number."

That number, if Senate Bill 117 is passed into law, would be 5 
nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. The measure squeaked 
through its first real test on the floor of the Colorado Senate 
Tuesday, passing by a 18-17 vote.

In Summit County, the bill is getting equally mixed reactions.

Hurlbert, who served on an eight-member state task force to 
investigate the validity of a law that would set specific limits on 
stoned driving, backs the proposal on the table, calling it a public 
safety matter.

"We're seeing DUI marijuana accidents rise," Hurlbert said. "We don't 
want it to become a crisis. We'd rather address it earlier and send a 
message that you cannot drive while you're stoned. That's what this 
law is attempting to do."

But Breckenridge medical marijuana attorney Sean McAllister, who 
served alongside Hurlbert on the task force, says legislation like SB 
117 will cause problems for people who are sober behind the wheel as well.

"Summit County is a place that's more favorably inclined toward 
marijuana in general and medical marijuana specifically," McAllister 
said. "One of the main problems is that chronic or regular users 
potentially could always be over that 5 nanogram level."

Even if they haven't smoked marijuana for a day or more and are no 
longer feeling its effects, he said.

It's already illegal for a driver to get behind the wheel with any 
marijuana in his or her blood stream, but that's not the avenue law 
enforcement officers in Summit County generally pursue in making 
arrests, Woodman said. It's more common, when a driver is pulled over 
and determined to be impaired, that drug use falls second to alcohol 

But the law, if anything, would be to the advantage of the driver, 
Woodman said. Currently, any marijuana in the system at all, however 
minute, is illegal. This law will give the driver 5 nanograms of 
leeway. "There should be parameters," Woodman said.

To advance, SB 117 has to pass another vote on the Senate floor. Once 
in the state House of Representatives it will need at least another 
four affirmative votes before it heads to the governor's desk.

Summit's Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) supported a similar bill last 
year, but said she is keeping an open mind on this year's 
legislation. Sen. Jean White (R-Hayden) did not immediately return a 
call for comment.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom