Driving stoned on marijuana; courtesy National Institute on Drug Abuse

Driving stoned on marijuana; image courtesy National Institute on Drug Abuse

A Denver woman who tested almost four times Colorado’s legal limit for marijuana has been acquitted of driving stoned, as Rob Lowe writes for Fox 31 Denver. The woman, Valerie Brinegar, 29, moved to Colorado two years ago from Indiana in order to have legal access to medical marijuana, Low writes.

Brinegar, who works at a medical marijuana dispensary, was driving to work in June of last year when a policeman pulled her over for an out of date license plate tag, Low writes. “He (police officer) smelled marijuana, I told him I’m a medical marijuana patient,” said Brinegar, as Low writes.

The test found that Brinegar had 19 nanograms of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana) in her blood, Low writes. According to Norml.org, Colorado law says that “in instances where THC is identified in a driver’s blood in quantities of 5ng/ml or higher, such fact gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.”

Brinegar’s lawyer, Colin McCallin, told a Jefferson County jury that the field sobriety test, which Brinegar failed, requires drivers to do things that would be difficult for some sober people to do, like stand on one leg for 30 seconds, as he says in a Fox31 video. While driving on the day she was pulled over, Brinegar was not weaving, not driving too slowly, and not involved in a car accident, McCallin said.

She had been offered a plea deal, but refused it, as it would have required her to go without medical marijuana for as long as two years, McCallin said, as Low writes. In court, Brinegar said she is in constant pain unless she takes medical marijuana, Low writes. She would not be able to drive without cannabis, as she has a compression injury in her back from a previous accident, Brinegar says in the video. “I have people drive with me and they see that I’m one of the most careful drivers that they are with, and I use cannabis daily,” Brinegar said, as Low writes.

In another news item about marijuana and driving, Ali Venosa writes for Medical Daily that Cannabix Technologies Inc., a Vancouver company, is developing a THC breathalyzer that can determine whether a driver had recently consumed THC. Such a breathalyzer would simplify the process of determining if a driver had consumed marijuana, as the only way to identify THC in a driver’s bloodstream now is via blood and urine tests, Venosa writes.

Although Cannabix, which has a patent pending on the device, has not given a time frame for when its breathalyzer would be available to buy, all such tests “may have a long way to go before they’re practical for use … since the science and reasoning behind how cannabis affects driving is far from established,” Venosa writes. There are also THC breathalyzers being developed by Lifeloc Technologies Inc., of Wheat Ridge, Colo., and by a Washington State professor and grad student duo. One problem with a breathalyzer is that it would not be able to pinpoint how much THC is in a driver’s bloodstream. And, as Venosa writes, there’s another problem:

[M]arijuana has been shown to remain in the bloodstream for weeks, or even a month after use. Though the device is promised to detect drivers ‘intoxicated’ by marijuana, it is unclear how the breathalyzer will differentiate between recently smoked cannabis and THC leftover from a past encounter with marijuana.

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