DENVER -- The marijuana legalization task force endorsed a bill Tuesday establishing a legal limit for driving stoned and recommended juveniles caught possessing pot be given a warning before criminal charges are filed.
But agreement couldn't be reached on other issues, such as the fundamental structure of the marijuana industry when it comes to who is able to grow, distribute and sell the drug.
Tuesday was the fourth meeting of the 24 member task force established by Gov. John Hickenlooper in December. The group is working on recommendations that will likely guide an omnibus bill -- a conglomeration of regulations -- to be considered by lawmakers this session.
The issue of driving under the influence of marijuana was considered separately from other recommendations, and the members voted to endorse a proposed bill that is about to start working its way through the General Assembly.
House Bill 114, by House Republican Leader Mark Waller and Democrat Rep. Rhonda Fields, would set the legal limit for driving at 5 nanograms of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in their blood.
The proposal mirrors the drunken driving limit of .08 blood alcohol content, except in one important way. Violators would be able to argue in court that they -- because of their size or tolerance or other factors -- are not in fact intoxicated or impaired at the 5 nanograms of THC level.
Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson was among those opposed to the legislation in Tuesday's task force meeting.
Jackson said he favored a zero tolerance policy, one that would mirror the current drunk driving laws.
The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice studied the issue for two years and developed a recommendation that was behind Waller's bill.
Other task force members opposed the bill for the opposite reason, saying there isn't substantial evidence that people are stoned or impaired drivers simply because they have 5 nanograms of THC in their blood stream.
The task force unanimously supported proposals for how to handle juveniles caught possessing or using marijuana.
Rather being a criminal offense -- as it stands now -- which can limit a juvenile's ability to get scholarships or financial aid later in life, the task force supports a policy that treats possession as a civil summons on first offense.
Jackson said he is concerned about the message that sends to young offenders, but ultimately supported the recommendation.
"A person can make a mistake and they should maybe be allowed to have a lesser penalty to avoid the consequences," Jackson said. "But I don't want to allow it 3, or 4 or 5 times."
The task force made no recommendations on how to structure the industry. Under existing regulations for medical marijuana, the industry must be vertically integrated, meaning from seed to sale the same people manage the transaction. The establishment is meant to prevent the drug from disappearing for non-medical purposes or to other states during the process while also preventing marijuana from being imported.
However, the proposal before the task force Tuesday would allow growers, distributors and sellers to operate independently, much as they do within the liquor industry.
Fatal Crash Numbers
Between 2006 and 2011, 240 people were killed in Colorado in crashes where the driver tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The number of fatalities with drivers under the influence of marijuana has increased over the years, while state-wide fatal crashes have decreased.
Year Fatal Crashes THC Total fatal crashes state percent THC
2006 21 721 2.9%
2007 23 789 2.9%
2008 31 712 4.4%
2009 37 653 5.7%
2010 42 600 7%
2011 52 587 8.9%
Source: Colorado Department of Transportation
Copyright 2013 - The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service