Thursday, September 1, 2011

No Per Se Levels for Marijuana DUI...For Now

The DUI(Drugs)--Marijuana Working Group, operating under the auspices of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, has decided not to recommend a specific blood-level concentration of THC, the intoxicant contained in marijuana, to establish per se proof of intoxication and/or impairment. Earlier this year, the Colorado General Assembly addressed the issue (HB 11-1261) and decided that there was insufficient scientific evidence to conclusively establish that a particular level of THC resulted in intoxication and/or impairment in drivers. The aim of the bill was to establish a THC level that could be accepted as prima facie evidence that a person was impaired or under the influence with respect to operating a motor vehicle, much as the .08 and .05 alcohol levels operate to establish whether a driver is under the influence and impaired under current state law. Given the far greater use of marijuana in light of relaxed Colorado laws pertaining to marijuana use and possession in recent years, the Colorado criminal justice system has seen a significant increase in the number of cases alleging driving under the influence or driving while ability impaired caused by marijuana use.

The decision by the Working Group reinforces the findings by the General Assembly that, at least for the time being with the level of scientific knowledge and research available, THC levels cannot be used to conclusively establish intoxication or impairment in a broad application to the population as a whole. It is unlikely, however, that we have heard the last of the debate on this issue. A charge of driving under the influence or while ability impaird by marijuana is a serious charge that can be even more complex than a similar case involving alcohol, and an experienced attorney is essential in helping a defendant assess his legal options.

Members of the Working Group include marijuana legal advocate Sean McAllister, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, State Judicial Department rep Heather Garwood, Division of Behavorial Health rep Christine Flavia, Colorado Spring Police rep Rod Walker, Eagle County DA Mark Hurlbert and drug addiction counselor Laura Spicer. Their formal report will be presented to the Commission next week.