Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced a bill Thursday that would require states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana to create a standard for determining when a driver is under the influence of pot.
The LUCID Act -- Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving -- does not set down a specific federal benchmark for impaired driving. Scott Overland, communications director for Polis, told The Huffington Post that the congressman doesn't intend to pursue one in the bill.
"The bill simply requires states with legal recreational or medicinal marijuana to have a standard," Overland said. "It doesn’t set a specific standard that they must have."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form so far. Polis' home state of Colorado was the first to legalize and permit the sale of recreational marijuana.
“As more and more states follow the will of their citizens and implement regulations to treat marijuana like alcohol, it is vital that we keep our roads safe and save lives by updating our driving under the influence laws,” said Polis in a statement. “The LUCID Act creates a single federal standard that will protect the public from impaired drivers and train law enforcement officials to effectively identify offenders. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work quickly to advance this legislation and keep impaired drivers, no matter what impaired them, off the road.”
The legislation would also make a state eligible for additional federal funding if it were in compliance with federal regulations designed to prevent the operation of motor vehicles by intoxicated persons, whether due to alcohol or marijuana.
Polis' announcement came just hours after Colorado launched a new campaign to discourage drugged driving. Entitled "Drive High, Get A DUI," the campaign is designed to remind drivers that marijuana does affect their ability to operate a motor vehicle and that driving under the influence of pot can result in a DUI charge similar to that for drunk driving. A DUI charge can cost up to $10,000 in Colorado.
In the meantime, debate continues over how exactly pot affects drivers, as well as the best way to make sure that only those who are truly impaired are being slapped with DUI charges. While marijuana may make it harder for some drivers to remain alert, the degree to which it impacts the user varies depending on how frequently that person gets stoned.
With no fully reliable method of on-site testing for THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, law enforcement depends on blood and urine samples to determine if an individual has too much THC in the bloodstream. In Colorado, for instance, "too much" is defined as 5 nanograms. But because THC remains in the blood stream for an extended period of time, a regular user could test over the limit while not being high or physically impaired. Similarly, an infrequent user could test below the 5-nanogram limit while still being too high to drive safely.
Some studies have also suggested that the presence of THC itself doesn't increase the probability of a crash. But Colorado officials have pointed to disturbing numbers in their efforts to combat high driving.
According to a release from the Colorado Department of Transportation: "In 2012, there were 630 drivers involved in 472 motor vehicle fatalities on Colorado roadways. Of the 630 drivers involved, 286 were tested for drugs. Nearly 27 percent of drivers tested had a positive drug test, with 12 percent testing positive for cannabis." These numbers do not say who was at fault for the accidents or which drugs those parties tested positive for.
Nick Wing contributed reporting.