OPINION: State needs to look for real science, real guidance from the courts in keeping stoned drivers off the road

Where science stands firm behind equating a blood-alcohol level to impairment, there is no reputable science behind a possible parallel between blood levels of THC and the inability to safely drive a car.

It’s up to the courts to put the state’s new marijuana driving law back on the straight and narrow instead of legislating for a hope and a prayer.

State lawmakers trying to find a way to keep stoned, pot-smoking drivers off the road first rejected then eventually approved a system similar to that used to identify drunken drivers.

It was a serious mistake. Where science stands firm behind equating a blood-alcohol level to impairment, there is no reputable science behind a possible parallel between blood levels of THC and the inability to safely drive a car. THC is the substance in pot that makes people high. There are some studies, but they’re not definitive, and they’re really not even very reliable.

No doubt it’s important to keep unsafe drivers from behind the wheel. And the logic is solid that since marijuana is soon to become legal and available to adults, more adults could be getting stoned and then heading out in their cars.

But that’s where good sense ended in this debate. The new measure, already signed into law, requires any motorist suspected of being stoned to submit to a blood test. If you’re caught driving with a blood-THC level above 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, you would face a charge of driving under the influence of drugs, possibly losing your driver’s license.

Here’s the problem. It could be very possible that the intoxicating effect of marijuana may be long gone before your blood-THC level falls under the 5 nanogram limit. What’s more, different people will almost certainly have different blood-THC levels based on a wide range of things like body mass, ingestion and what was consumed. Marijuana isn’t alcohol, and even though both can be intoxicating and potentially making users unsafe as drivers, the parallels end there. The “high” from each of the substances is very different. How the intoxicating substance is metabolized is also radically different.

Medical marijuana users worry that they may not be intoxicated at all and could still be at or over the 5 ng limit because of how the body stores remnants of THC, which can be different for different people. Because questions about how people react to marijuana have been largely academic, state lawmakers need to give science a chance to catch up. With so much at stake with the possible loss of a driver’s license, imposing this level without better science and better answers is not just unfair, it’s plain wrong.

We agree that trying to make allowances for people to consume “some” alcohol or marijuana and still drive a car is a sketchy public policy, but it addresses the reality of a society where alcohol is plentiful and accepted, and driving somewhere to get it is commonplace. It’s not unrealistic to expect that marijuana use in Colorado will follow similar suit. In that vein, scientists and the government have offered a wide range of recommendations to the public, helping them gauge how much alcohol to drink and under what circumstances before getting behind the wheel of a car. It’s part of the Colorado driver test. We agree that the best advice is, don’t drink and drive, and don’t get high and drive. But the iffy science behind this measure begs the question, “For how long?” Hours? Days?

Current law provides for police to stop and ticket drivers for being impaired or dangerous, without a mandatory blood test that could be in accurate or meaningless.

There are no clear answers here, and so making law with such serious consequences is a serious mistake.

It’s up to the courts to strike down this measure as unworkable. Brandon Baker, who said he uses marijuana for religious reasons, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Denver asking a judge to stop the law and sort fairness questions out. We’re backing that attempt and pushing for state officials to find sound ways to protect public safety and the rights of individuals.

  • Frank25

    If I had written this article, I would not put my name to it either. Blaming the paper as if the computers generated it, is similar to Washington policies, where cabinet officers do not know, do not tell the White House staff, or pass info to the president. Just some unknown, in the backroom who found this on computer. Watching the photos of civic center during “smoke-out” with shooting, I shudder to think that any of those shown even own a car, let alone drive it. And anything injected, inhaled, or taken by mouth that changes mood, attitude, or actions, whether benign or acting out, is unacceptable, My prescription bottles all have warnings of possible dizziness, possible eye sight blurring, and I drive and have an accident, I will be at fault by police report. No matter how the accident happens. I speak from experience, where uninsured driver of vehicle slid into mine, where I was stopped, pushed my van into another vehicle, and since I had insurance, police report listed me. Only after writing to my insurance company, and the Colorado Insurance Commissioner, was I cleared. And the uninsured driver got a $100 fine for not having insurance. I contend if these people drive after drinking or using Pot, they are dangerous, no matter how cool and relaxed they are. Why have we had so many hit and run deaths and injuries in past 2 years? And that was during “Medical” (?_) pot. Recreational pot is entirely different and expands the road danger.