Driving Under the Influence(DUI) of marijuana is proving problematic for the strong-arm-of-the-law because they don’t have an equivalent to a breathalyzer with which to test suspects.
They cannot rely on pot-heads to display tell-tale signs of being stoned, such as droopy eyelids and a laid-back attitude, because contrary to belief many cannabis-users are alert and erudite when under the influence of weed.
Instead, highway patrolmen have to rely on the old-fashioned method to nab suspects like:
—–>“Walk the line”
—–>“Balance on one foot”
—–>“Follow my finger with your eyes”
Further aggravating the situation is the fact that the judicial system is skeptical about the efficacy of these DUI tests, so at this stage innocent until proven guilty errs in favor of pot smokers. Until such time as a “potalyzer” can do the same job as a breathalyzer to ascertain alcohol levels in a driver suspected of DUI, prosecutors and judges are more likely to remain uncomfortable about the subjectivity of these roadside testing methods.
Legal hornet’s nest
This legal hornet’s nest was broken open last Christmas Eve when Mohammed Abraar Ali allegedly drove at speed into a California Highway Patrol (CHP) vehicle, killing Officer Andrew Camilleri. Officials said that 22-year-old Ali was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. He was .03 above the State alcohol limit, but it’s unclear how his cannabis intake was established. Ali told officials he got stoned at a Christmas party.
So in the meantime, without a “potalyzer” to measure cannabis levels, law enforcement agencies have to rely on training programs for officers to pinpoint telling signs of driving stoned. Launched in the 1970s by the Los Angeles Police Department, the program trains officers to recognize tell-tale symptoms of a range of drugs displayed by suspect drivers.
Even blood tests, sometimes used by police, cannot provide a reliable reading of THC levels in marijuana suspects. THC is a trace element left in the bloodstream after smoking pot, but some suspects have low levels despite showing obvious signs of impairment.
While several States are seeking to toughen laws for stoned driving by setting THC limits in the bloodstream – much like alcohol levels – a leading researcher in this field has warned lawmakers to exercise caution until such time as technology and research can catch up.
Thomas Marcotte, who is undertaking research into stoned driving at the University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, says until now marijuana levels in pot-head drivers cannot be backed up by science.
He says without an approved breathalyzer to test stoned drivers, law enforcement officers cannot rely on the results of blood tests for THC levels because these have been proven to be unreliable. Marcotte points out that THC levels have shown conflicting behavioral patterns. His statement is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and transportation associations who have reached similar conclusions about laws based on THC limits.
According to a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association last year, such laws would “imply a relation between drug concentrations and impairment”, while “the scientific consensus is that evidence to establish these relations does not exist”.
Recognizing the need to implement technology to assist traffic officials to identify culprits of stoned driving, the Government allocated $1.8 million to fund research at UCSD. Volunteers taking part in the study have to take marijuana and then allow researchers to monitor their behavior while using driving simulators.
Will legalized marijuana increase stoned driving?
While several of American States have legalized marijuana for recreational use, officials from the State Office of Traffic Safety are concerned that this could lead to an increase in stoned driving. They point out that exactly that concern has happened in Colorado where there has been an increase in driving under the influence of pot since the State legalized recreational marijuana sales back in 2014. California, on the other hand, cannot effectively provide marijuana statisticmarijuana laws, because the CHP doesn’t distinguish between pot and other substances when arresting drugged driving suspects.
Officer training program
According to Sgt Glen Glaser, the CHP faces challenges when training officers on marijuana impairment. Unlike alcohol, the agency is not allowed to provide weed to test subjects because of State marijuana prohibition laws.
CHP undertakes monthly 72-hour courses for traffic officers to become drug recognition evaluators. At present, CHP and law enforcement agencies throughout California employ about 1 700 drug recognition evaluators. Drug recognition experts are often called upon by police agencies when an officer needs to confirm a suspect for drugged driving.
The course includes a three-hour section on cannabis where officers are made aware of tell-tale signs of pot users. These include droopy eyelids, dilated irises, and inertia. Trainees are warned, however, that these characteristics can be also be displayed by suspects for reasons other than marijuana use, and are urged to evaluate “the totality of the evidence,” such as erratic driving, before jumping to any conclusions.
Until such time as a “potalyzer” is developed, traffic officials, as well as the judiciary, will be left without absolute proof of drugged driving.
Researchers are conducting studies to establish if an iPad could be used to test sobriety levels of a suspect, and whether or not saliva and breath tests can conclusively measure marijuana impairment. This research, however, is expected to take another two years.