The problem with America’s marijuana DUI laws: scienceEVERYONE CAN AGREE THAT DRIVING WHILE STONED IS DANGEROUS, BUT HOW DO STATES REMEDY THE FLAWED SCIENCE BEHIND MARIJUANA DRUG TESTS? You have people that are just baked’ Singh rolled a “fat blunt” before he hit the slopes at Lake Tahoe on a sunny Wednesday morning.By the end of the day, he needed a refill, so he drove to Reno and stopped at one of the local medical marijuana dispensaries. With his Patagonia jacket and bleached-blond man-bun, Singh was eager to head to his hotel and smoke.The only reason he wouldn’t be smoking while driving to the hotel was because he believes Nevada cops are stricter than the ones in the Bay Area.“Yeah, I roll my blunts while I’m driving. I smoke while I’m driving,” said Singh, 26, who owns a logistics business and a “party bus” in Oakland, Calif. “I don’t get high after two blunts. I just get tired and lazy.”With the passage of recreational marijuana in November, Nevada is grappling with questions of how to handle the issue of driving while stoned. And while driving high is still illegal, determining what exactly constitutes “high” is not as easy as it sounds.Just how much pot is an ounce? Watch our explainer:CLOSESince Nevada legalized recreational marijuana, anyone 21 and over can possess up to 1 ounce in-state. How many people actually could look at an ounce and identify it, though? We’re here to help educate you.Jenny Kane/RGJAmong states with legal recreational marijuana, Nevada has the strictest limit on how much of the chemical THC can be in the bloodstream — the weed equivalent of blood-alcohol content — before the driver is considered impaired. Nevada’s limit is even lower than the federal standard for Department of Transportation employees.But catching drugged drivers has become more complicated since recreational marijuana became legal in January across the state.No real-time, accurate test exists. Officers have no accurate Breathalyzer test; blood, urine and saliva tests exist but are imperfect.On top of that, no scientific evidence backs up that a specific amount of marijuana in a person’s system means impairment. That means that limits for marijuana similar to those for alcohol use can be problematic.“You have people that are just baked, they have that Spicoli persona and yet they ace the driving test. You have others who are totally sober and they flunk that blood test,” said Chris Halsor, a former Colorado prosecutor currently serving as Nevada’s temporary traffic safety resource prosecutor.Nevada law says that anyone with 2 nanograms of marijuana in their system while driving is impaired.Critics of the limit point out that it’s so low that people who have smoked marijuana in the distant past but are not impaired could be convicted of DUI under the current law.However, advocates of the limit point out that driving under the influence cases involving marijuana are already difficult to prove and a limit is necessary.Despite the inconsistencies, states must adapt, Halsor said. It’s an issue every state that legalizes marijuana faces, finding varying solutions.“You have to go into every case being able to prove impairment without toxicology,” Halsor said.A legal puzzleThe question of marijuana DUIs has been at the forefront of bipartisan discussions among lawmakers since Nevadans voted in November to legalize recreational marijuana. Anyone 21 and over can possess up to 1 ounce of recreational marijuana, even though it remains a federal offense.Medical marijuana has been legal in Nevada since 2000, and recreational marijuana officially became legal as of Jan. 1, though it is still a misdemeanor to drive under the influence of marijuana and can be a felony depending on circumstances.Just as Nevada has a .08 blood alcohol limit, the state also has a 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood limit for marijuana. Colorado and Washington’s limit is 5 nanograms.Most states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized recreational marijuana — California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, and Alaska — have no set limit. States without set limits also establish that impaired driving is illegal and can be proven by a defendant’s behavior and statements at the time of arrest.“States are trying to figure out what is a fair nanogram limit – what should they use for guidance, and should we have a nanogram limit? Neither is good, right? I don’t think it’s appropriate to institute a rule that doesn’t work. I don’t understand the point of having a limit if that doesn’t tell you what you need to know,” said Dr. Ryan Vandrey, associate professor of behavioral pharmacology research at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore. “If you are going to punish people for not being under the influence of a drug that you just legalized, that’s not fair. You can’t take corrective action.”While it would seem logical to model drugged driving laws after existing
Police are using new mouth-swab tests to nab drivers under the influence of marijuana and other drugs. Drivers on pot could be detected with new device. San Diego police have a new way to confirm the presence of marijuana and other drugs in impaired drivers — a mouth-swab device that is already being used by police departments in more than a dozen states and is expected to become more popular with the legalization of marijuana.The two Dräger DrugTest 5000 machines, which cost about $6,000 each, were donated by the San Diego Police Foundation last week.ADVERTISINGThey are expected to debut Friday night at the St. Patrick’s Day DUI checkpoint in downtown San Diego.The machine, about the size of a mini bookshelf stereo system, tests for the presence of seven drugs — marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, amphetamine, methadone and benzodiazepines. The device does not read the level of intoxication; drivers would have to take a blood test for that information.Paid Post WHAT’S THIS? Best Casual RestaurantsA Message from The Daily MealThese restaurants may not be temples of gastronomy, but they sure offer some mighty good food.See More“It’s a huge concern of ours with the legalization of marijuana that we’re going to see an increase in impaired drugged driving,” Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said at a news conference Thursday near the Ingraham Street Bridge in Mission Bay, a common DUI checkpoint spot.California voters approved the use and cultivation of recreational marijuana by passing Proposition 64 in November.To prepare for the effects of the law, a team of San Diego narcotics officers went to Denver to learn how Colorado has fared since recreational marijuana was legalized there and found that the region has seen an uptick in drugged driving, Zimmerman said. The numbers have been growing in California as well.In 2014, 38% of drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in California tested positive for drugs, whether legal or illegal, according to the state Office of Highway Safety. That’s up from 32% the year before.“We want to get these impaired drivers off the streets,” the chief said.The Dräger 5000 premiered in the U.S. in 2009 and is used by police in places such as Los Angeles, New York, Arizona and Nevada, as well as in other countries such as Australia, Belgium and Germany.In San Diego, the machines will be used primarily at DUI checkpoints for now.Like the handheld preliminary alcohol screening devices frequently used in the field to test for booze, drivers cannot be forced to submit to a Dräger 5000 test.Officers trained to recognize the symptoms of drug impairment will first look for various indicators that a driver is high, such as an unsafe driving maneuver, bloodshot eyes, the odor of marijuana and blank stares, San Diego police Officer Emilio Ramirez said. Once there is ample suspicion of drug use, the officer can then request to perform field sobriety tests or for a driver to take the Dräger 5000 test.If the driver refuses at that point, the officer can force the person to submit to a blood test.To use the machine, the driver is handed a mouth swab and instructed to run it around the inside of the mouth for up to four minutes. The swab is then placed into the machine, along with a vial of testing solution, and the machine does its work. It takes about six to eight minutes for results to print out.A positive result will likely send the driver to a police phlebotomist for a blood test to determine precise drug levels.If the mouth swab test is negative but the officer still has a suspicion of impairment, then a blood draw might still be mandated, because the Dräger 5000 measures for only seven kinds of narcotics, Ramirez said.When it comes to detecting marijuana, the machine only looks for the active THC compound that is responsible for the high. That component, delta-9 THC, can stay in a person’s system for a few hours or longer, depending on how the cannabis was ingested and how the person’s body processes the drug. The machine does not look for the inactive THC compounds, which can stay in a person’s system for weeks, police said.In other words, if someone legally smoked marijuana two days ago, there would be nothing to worry about if tested on the machine.Evidence from the Dräger 5000 will be admissible in court, although the machine is not expected to have a notable effect on how drugged driving cases are prosecuted, attorneys said.Under California law, there is no legal threshold for the amount of drugs in a person’s system when it comes to driving. Alcohol cases are more black and white — a .08% blood-alcohol level or higher is illegal.Officers and prosecutors have instead had to rely on subjective measures and observations to build a case of drug impairment, which can be different from person to person.
Driver accused of smoking pot before taking bus full of students on field trip: CHELMSFORD, MA (WHDH) – A bus driver has been arrested on several charges after police said he operated a school bus while under the influence of drugs.School administrators called officers Tuesday after high school students reported a strange odor on a bus they were boarding for a field trip, Chelmsford police said. A teacher notified a principal, who reportedly smelled marijuana after boarding the bus.Police said about 50 Students were taken off the bus and officers determined that the bus driver, 63-year-old Ali Mahfuz, of Nashua, New Hampshire, was under the influence of marijuana.Mahfuz was charged with operating under the influence, negligent operation, and reckless endangerment.Mahfuz told 7News that the students would have been in danger if he had driven the school bus. Police said he had just finished a route for Greater Lowell Technical High School before arriving in Chelmsford.Police officials said that they were “astonished” by Mahfuz’s “lack of common sense” and poor decision making.The bus driver that employs Mahfuz , North Reading Transportation, Inc., is cooperating with authorities.A new bus driver was sent to the school to take the students on the field trip.Mahfuz was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Lowell District Court. Prosecutors say Mahfuz admitted to smoking marijuana.He was released on personal recognizance.
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A new tool to help police detect drivers under the influence of illegal drugs was unveiled by the San Diego Police Department. The device, the Drager 5000, will use a sample of saliva to detect drugs in a person’s system. It can detect illegal and prescribed drugs as well. The detection devices will be only one step in determining if someone is driving impaired, and will be used in conjunction with evaluation by officers at the scene as well as blood tests when warranted. DUI Defense Attorney Vik Monder said the test is voluntary. Also, he said because there is not set limitations on the amount of marijuana a person can legally consume before becomming intoxicated, drugged driving cases are difficult to prosecute. He said the evidence often relies on an officer making a subjective decision about how impaired a driver is or is not. Los Angeles Police has used the machines for several years, the chief said, and there is a pilot program going on in Denver, Colorado. It is highly unlikely someone who smoked marijuana days prior to the test would register a result, according to an officer demonstrating the machine.