Police say pot decriminalization can result in new wave of impaired drivers

June 21, 2019 - 6:56 am
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Traffic cops across the country are changing their patrol activities as marijuana laws change.

Driving while stoned is not the same as having a few too many drinks. The testing is different. There is no equivalent  of a breathalyzer to determine if a motorist is over the limit with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. 

In some cases in which marijuana impairment is suspected, officers collect saliva or blood samples. The samples are used to compare with results of field sobriety tests, said Sgt. Bill Lowe, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

"We know from the states that have legalized (marijuana), especially the recreational side of things, the statistics have shot through the roof in terms of fatalities, serious incidents and just general impaired driving arrests," Lowe said. "There's a myth out there that it's okay to get high and drive, and it's not the same thing. It's absolutely the same thing. Impairment's impairment."

Another complication is the lack of benchmarks, like a .08 breathalyzer reading that determines whether a person is over the limit on alcohol. The thought of more people getting behind the wheel while high on marijuana is worrisome, said Sgt. Chris Bentch, who supervises the DUI unit of the Kansas City Police Department.

"They don't necessarily identify the specific narcotic, or depressant, or specific drug that that driver's on, but they cue in on the behaviors," Bentch said.

Law enforcement agencies are engaged in a technological race for more accurate methods of determining whether a driver is impaired with marijuana. They do not expect to set up stoned checkpoints anytime soon.

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