Colorado Mulls Marijuana Driving Laws Since State Approved Recreational Pot Use

Now that Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has signed into law the recreational use of marijuana in that state, a 24-member task force is helping the state establish how people in Colorado can legally buy and sell pot, since federal laws classify marijuana as an illegal substance, writes Ashley Killough for CNN’s blog PoliticalTicker. Any recommendations from the task force would have to be approved by the Legislature, Associated Press writes in an article appearing on SummitDaily.com.

In a statement on Dec. 10, U.S. Attorney John Walsh said: “Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10 in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”

Although Hickenlooper had opposed Amendment 64, which voters approved to make recreational use of marijuana legal in the state, he now says he will work to enforce the law and make sure that Colorado operates in accordance with the federal government, Kilough writes.

As Jessica Fender writes in The Denver Post, buying and selling any marijuana other than medical marijuana remains illegal in Colorado until the state legislature approves a regulatory framework next year. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since the year 2000, after 54% of voters approved a ballot amendment, according to MedicalMarijuanaProCon.org.

But while those who voted for Amendment 64 approving use of recreational marijuana are happy, others are concerned about the effect legalization will have on driving safety and the rate of drugged driving. Fender reports that “the state is closer than ever to defining just how stoned is too stoned to drive.”

Law enforcement officials want the legal limit to be 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. In the latest draft of a bill, drivers caught over the THC limit would be able to argue in court that they were not impaired, which Fender points out is an opportunity not given to drunk drivers who are caught driving over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Fender goes on to say:

“Unlike Washington state, where voters also legalized pot in November, Colorado’s Amendment 64 included no provisions setting a cap on the amount of psychoactive THC that a driver could legally have in his or her bloodstream.

Washington set its limit at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Two other states have set legal limits at 2 nanograms in criminal statutes, and several more have zero-tolerance policies.”

She also adds that the methods scientists used to establish those numbers are controversial and relatively new. While the vast majority of law makers are in agreement concerning alcohol legal limits, the numbers proposed for marijuana legal limits are hotly contested.

Aurora Representative Rhonda Fields told William Breathes of Denver Westword Blogs that when the Colorado General Assembly meets in January, she will co-sponsor legislation to regulate a person’s driving under the influence of marijuana. Breathes quotes her:

“‘It’s about public safety,’ she says. ‘I want our streets to be safe. With the passing of Amendment 64, we need to have some standards in place so people don’t think they can smoke and get behind a wheel and drive. We have a standard for alcohol; we need to have a standard for THC limits.'”

In an article appearing in the Morning Sentinel, Gene Johnson and Kristen Wyatt reported for Associated Press that statistics gathered for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 2009, one third of fatally injured drivers with known test results were positive for drugs other than alcohol.

Marijuana can cause dizziness and slowed reaction time, and drivers are more likely to drift and swerve their vehicles when they are high, AP wrote. And unlike portable breath tests for alcohol, there is no easily available way to know if a driver is impaired from recent pot use.

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Judy Pokras is the head blogger for the Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen, a Colorado car accident law firm with over 25 years experience. Judy has been a professional journalist for over a decade, and has written for The New York Times and the Daily Record. Judy writes about auto safety news and trends on the firm’s blog. For more information, please contact Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen: 1400 16th Street, Suite 400, Denver, CO 80202, (303) 454-8000.