Police on pot: here’s what they say about marijuana DUIs

marijuana duis

Legalization brings many heated conversations, one of which is often focused on cannabis DUI detection. Law enforcement hasn’t standardized or widely accepted any method for detecting high drivers. Even a blood test wouldn’t show the time of inebriation.

It’s still hard to know whether someone had consumed 30 minutes or six hours before being pulled over. This nuance, combined with the piecemeal way marijuana is legal in the U.S., means that cannabis DUI detection and protocol varies between departments.

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Police officers on detecting cannabis DUIs

Orange County, Calif. Sheriff’s deputies detect stoned driving using the methods developed to identify drunk drivers on the road.

Sergeant Frank Gonzalez, a public information officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, told GreenState, “The same cues for alcohol impaired driving are used for cannabis impaired driving: speeding, lane straddling, unsafe lane changes, vigilance issues, no headlights on during darkness, et cetera.”

In Minnesota, Minneapolis officers use in-field sobriety tests, according to media relations coordinator Aaron Rose.

“If someone is suspected of DWI for marijuana, and there is specific articulable evidence documented,” Rose explained, “any officer can do a standard DWI field test and submit a request for a blood warrant approved by a judge. The standard blood testing will take place in a hospital setting.”

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A blood test can accurately detect cannabis in the system but may not tell a true tale about when it was consumed. That last bit is particularly important when being charged for driving on weed. Recently, a study confirmed this, showing that cannabis stays stored in the fat cells of regular consumers. In the research, stoner participants tested positive for cannabis but weren’t impaired.

Many also argue that it is an invasion of privacy to draw blood, and it remains within someone’s rights to turn down a blood test.

Certain Minnesota jurisdictions are pilot-testing two roadside saliva intoxication tests that also detect opioids and methamphetamine. The devices are on the road now with select patrol cars but can only be used with the consent of the detained. Also, results aren’t permissible in court.

Tests for driving high

Back in Orange County, deputies are using alcohol DUI tests, like tracking eye gaze for abnormalities, balance tests like the one-leg stand, and the classic finger-to-nose. Whether someone needs the test depends on the deputy.

“After a deputy completes their investigation and considers the totality of the circumstances, the deputy will form an opinion as to whether the driver is under the influence and can or cannot operate a vehicle safely,” said Sgt. Gonzalez. “This includes evidence gathered during the vehicle in motion, personal contact, and pre-arrest screening, which is the same for alcohol-impaired driving.”

Turns out, most officers are in a bit of a predicament when it comes to weed on the road. No method is widely accepted by law enforcement to detect driving while high. Additionally, there isn’t a set point of inebriation like 0.08 percent blood alcohol content with alcohol.

These areas of research and training haven’t expanded despite the foothold of legalization, but pilot programs foretell development to come. Until then, and after, the best rule of thumb for weed and the road is to never drive high.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.