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Marijuana DUI bill wins final approval in Colorado House

This week a bill that has angered some medical marijuana users in Colorado has won final approval in the state's House of Representatives, meaning it now only needs approval from the state Senate to become official.

The bill sets a DUI impairment standard for medical marijuana users when they get behind the wheel. Currently, there is no law regulating the amount of marijuana a person who has been approved for medical marijuana use can have in his or her system while operating a vehicle.

Known as House Bill 1261, the law would make blood-content levels of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, result in impairment, or a DUI.

Reportedly, lawmakers thought the bill was necessary as the use of medical marijuana has continued to gain popularity in the state and they feared that people could begin driving impaired as a result. But the Colorado House struggled this week over what an appropriate limit would be.

Some medical marijuana advocates are upset with the level and argued that people who are required to use the drug daily could build tolerances against it and be punished unfairly for being over the limit but still able to drive safely. They also argued that the blood test alone should not be the only evidence considered in making DUI convictions.

A co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder, said that she supported an increase to 8 nanograms, but her amendment was strongly opposed by the bill's other co-sponsor, Rep. Mark Waller of El Paso County.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that THC concentrations are highest during the act of smoking and they usually fall below 5 nanograms in about three hours.

According to the Associated Press, the 5 nanogram limit is the most liberal of its kind throughout the country. Currently, 16 states allow medical marijuana use but there is little conformity with marijuana DUI laws.

Resource: The Coloradoan, "Pot DUI bill advances in Colorado House," Ivan Moreno, 3/22/2011. Secondary Resource: Gazette.com, "Marijuana DUI standard clears another Colo. Hurdle," AP, 3/23/2011.

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