Friday, February 12, 2016

State legislators look to tackle stoned drivers with new technology

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 10:25 AM

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One of the main — and perhaps most reasonable — arguments against legalization of marijuana is that more stoned drivers on the road create a risk to public safety. Sure, everyone has that one friend who supposedly drives better high. Whether weed impairs motor skills as alcohol does may in fact be a valid question, but not one policymakers are currently entertaining.

What they are pondering is how to enforce drug-impaired driving laws  when there’s not really a breathalyzer equivalent that can accurately test for THC levels in a person's system. Because THC lingers in users' systems, you could get pulled over, test positive for THC in your blood from a weeks-ago bong hit, then get handed a DUI conviction.

Actually, 2015 was the second year the Colorado State Highway Patrol tracked the number of marijuana-specific DUI charges. The state reported 4,546 citations issued for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and 665 of those people had marijuana in their system when they were charged.

The State Patrol is in the midst of a pilot program to test-drive five different THC-detecting devices. Every field office in the state has at least one such device, according to Maj. Steve Garcia with the Patrol’s training branch. When troopers pull over drivers on suspicion of driving while stoned, they ask whether the driver would like to participate in the program. “Sometimes people are glad to participate, and sometimes they want nothing to do with us,” Garcia told The Cannabist.

The ideal device would be able to reliably detect five nanograms of THC — the magic .08 of marijuana impairment, as determined by the Legislature — in a driver’s saliva. Prospective devices the state is looking at range from pregnancy test-like to toaster oven-like. So to find that ideal device, 125 select state troopers test a suspect’s saliva using this technology, but only after an arrest has been made and blood has been tested. (Saliva results are, however, discoverable in court, should it come to that.)

The State Patrol is somewhat cagey about giving too many specifics, according to The Cannabist. Information about the devices, the companies that manufacture them, how effective they are, how much they cost, which troopers are using them, etc. is all still under wraps.

So if you get pulled over and asked to partake in the pilot program, what should you do?

Sure, science is cool. But exposure to unnecessary risk is not. Prominent Denver DUI attorney Jay Tiftickjian put it bluntly to The Cannabist: “If anything is voluntary, and if it’s not something that could be in their favor, then why would they expose themselves to that? If anybody asked me if they should, I would obviously tell them not to.”

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