Four New Legal Marijuana States – There Will Be Consequences
Four New Legal Marijuana States – There Will Be Consequences
On November 8th, four states voted to make marijuana completely legal. Law enforcement is warning that they are not prepared for the consequences.
November 8th changed a lot of things for citizens of the United States. Trump beat all odds and will be the 45th president. Proposition 57 is going to release a whole lot of bad people from jail into California. Heck, pretty soon you’re even going to be able to stop by the 7-11 and grab a little bit weed on the way home from work if you live in California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts. Well, not that easily, but here is what’s happening in these pro- marijuana states:
California voted in Proposition 64, which will allow people who are over the age of 21 to buy, transport, and possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes. It will also allow people to privately grow no more than 6 plants. The retail sales tax on this legal marijuana will be a whopping 15%. Only state licensed dispensaries will be able to sell it and the state won’t issue licenses until 2018.
Massachusetts was a hard fight for pot enthusiasts, but they won the majority vote to allow recreational use with a 54% vote. This comes a few weeks after the Catholic church spent nearly a million dollars on a “say no to marijuana legalization” campaign.
54% of Nevada voters also said yes to recreational marijuana. Starting January 1st, adults are allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Licensed medical marijuana dispensaries are the only ones allowed to apply for a recreational retail license.
Last, but not least, Maine got recreational pot by the skin of their teeth with 50.3% in favor. The details of how much and when you can buy marijuana in Maine are not clear as of right now. According to the Business Insider, the alcohol industry in Maine fought hard to keep it from being legal. The company behind Sam Adams were worried about the legalization of recreational marijuana impacting the demand for their beer.
It probably won’t be too long before marijuana is legal everywhere. If you do decide to partake in a little of the jazz cabbage, devils lettuce, or wacky tobacci, do so responsibly and please don’t drive under the influence.
An officer in a marijuana-legal Washington state sent me his experience with marijuana legalization’s effect on driving under the influence:
The Marijuana DUI Detection Problem
There has been an extreme increase in the number of marijuana-impaired drivers in the state. What’s most aggravating about this is that law enforcement is not currently equipped to handle marijuana-impaired drivers and most of them are being let go.
Field sobriety tests are scientifically proven to be able to detect alcohol impairment at a 0.10% alcohol level or higher. However, field sobriety tests are of limited use with marijuana impairment. Marijuana users are generally able to perform field sobriety tests fairly well, unless they are exceptionally impaired. The lack of accurate testing for marijuana impairment is leaving the majority of law enforcement officers unable to determine impairment, so even if the driver is stopped while high, officers are letting them go because they don’t believe that they have probable cause.
When marijuana wasn’t legal, the lone fact that somebody had recently used marijuana was enough to arrest them. Now, marijuana users are engaging in a legal activity by smoking, and officers need to show that these people are actually impaired at the time they are stopped. Consider it like having one beer at dinner, just because you drank doesn’t mean you are impaired. Just because somebody may have used marijuana recently isn’t enough to show impairment without additional evidence. Based on the amount of marijuana consumed and the amount of time since use, the person may no longer be impaired. But remember, officers are having difficulty recognizing when people are actually impaired.
Fatal collisions in the state involving a marijuana-impaired drivers have doubled to 17% since legalization. That highlights the danger of marijuana impairment, but there’s no way to get solid facts on the actual number of marijuana-impaired drivers on the road who are not involved in fatal collisions. You could try to look at arrest statistics, but keep in mind that more often than not, officers are letting marijuana-impaired drivers go because they are unable to detect impairment. Based on my personal experience, I would estimate that well over 90% of marijuana-impaired drivers who are actually stopped by law enforcement are allowed to drive away because the officer was unable to detect impairment.
The Marijuana DUI Drivers Themselves
Out of all of the marijuana-impaired drivers I have arrested since legalization, almost none of them would admit that marijuana could impair their ability to drive. Alcohol-impaired drivers all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk. The alcohol-impaired drivers generally fall into one of three categories:
1. They were unaware that they were impaired by the amount of alcohol they had in their system. They admit that it’s possible to be impaired by alcohol, they just thought that they didn’t have enough to drink to be impaired.
2. They knew that they were impaired, but they viewed driving as a cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement not to get caught. They have no regard for the actual dangers of impaired driving.
3. They knew that they were impaired, and if sober they would never make the decision to drive, but their judgement was impaired by the alcohol. They know that they made a mistake.
Marijuana impaired drivers are almost in a class of their own, unwilling to believe that they can be impaired by marijuana. Many will admit that mixing marijuana with any amount of alcohol or other drugs can be very impairing, but they believe that they aren’t impaired by just weed. “I live on weed, I work on weed, I drive on weed, I’m fine,” they say.
The problem is aggravated because people can actually become acclimated to marijuana. A heavy marijuana user will show significantly less impairment after recent marijuana use than an infrequent user. The users are aware of this, and they believe that they aren’t impaired at all. Bizarrely, heavy marijuana users will also show some small degree of impairment when they haven’t used any marijuana for many hours.
The Long Arrest Process
Once an officer takes a marijuana-impaired driver into custody for DUI, the process doesn’t end there. The officer generally only has a couple hour window to extract a blood sample from the time that the driver smoked marijuana. Assuming that the driver wasn’t stopped while in the process of smoking marijuana, the officer has probably already lost an hour between the time the driver smoked up to the time of arrest.
Washington State mandates that all DUI drivers have their vehicle impounded. That means that the arresting officer needs to find another officer to handle the impound for them, or wait for a tow truck to show up. There’s more lost time.
Officers need to extract a blood sample from the suspect so that it can be tested for THC. Laws differ by state, but nationwide you cannot force somebody to provide a blood sample without a warrant. This means that the officer needs to write a search warrant, which is a process that can be between 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the officer. The officer then needs to call a judge on the phone (usually waking them up at night,) and get the warrant approved. That usually ads another 15-30 minutes, but can take longer if you are having trouble contacting a judge. The officer then needs to take the suspect to a qualified person to extract the blood. Depending on the circumstances, that could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.
If the officer moves fast, and is lucky, they can get the blood within two hours of the suspect’s marijuana use. Otherwise, the blood sample is only likely to show low levels of THC, and can severely reduce any penalties for the driver.
Unfortunately, the process isn’t over there. The officer still generally needs to have the judge physically sign the warrant, then file it with the court clerk along with other paperwork. Actually writing a proper report on the DUI arrest is another few hours of work. Overall, you can expect an officer to spend most of a shift working on a marijuana DUI arrest. That’s a shift that the officer is unavailable to handle other calls or catch other people who are breaking the law.
There’s no easy solution to the problem of marijuana impaired drivers. No amount of information or awareness is likely going to convince many marijuana users that marijuana can impair their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Even if you do convince some people, their judgement will still be affected by the marijuana. There’s no doubt that the number of impaired drivers on the roadway, and the number of people killed by these impaired drivers, will increase in every state where marijuana is legal. What number of dead and hospitalized innocent motorists so we as a society find acceptable? I suspect that the public won’t care until it’s one of their family members killed. They aren’t the ones responding to the mutilated victims of DUI drivers.
1. Create laws which impose heavy civil penalties
Officers cannot legally force anybody to provide a blood sample without a warrant. Officers don’t legally need a warrant for blood if they have the person’s consent, however the courts will often refuse to acknowledge that the person was mentally capable of giving consent because they were impaired by drugs. Depending on the judge, any blood taken by consent is at serious risk of getting thrown out in a criminal trial.
But what if we stopped focusing on the criminal trial? States can legally impose civil penalties, such as suspending a person’s license, for failure to consent to a blood test. That same blood test may not be admitted into a criminal trial, but it can be admitted into a civil hearing which would allow a civil magistrate to impose driver’s license penalties.
For example, if a driver were arrested for DUI, the driver could be asked to voluntarily submit to a blood test. If the driver consents, then that blood sample may be used as evidence in a criminal trial, and would be used in a civil hearing. Even if the criminal trial judge does not admit the blood evidence, the civil magistrate could use the blood evidence to determine that the high level of THC should result in a driver’s license suspension. Then if the offender drives while their license is suspended, they can face criminal charges. Even if there is a lack of evidence for a conviction without the blood evidence, criminal charges may be dropped, but the offender will still face penalties.
If the driver were to refuse consent to the blood test, the person’s refusal could be admitted into evidence in a criminal trial, and the refusal could result in an automatic civil penalty where the driver’s license is suspended for an extended period of time.
2. Develop and implement mandatory roadside testing for THC
Because there is an enormous amount of DUI drivers who can never be convinced not to drive, the only thing we can do to combat this problem is heavy enforcement and physically removing these people’s ability to drive while they are high. This means arresting them.
However, police officers are generally unable to detect marijuana impaired drivers. We could increase the amount of training given to these officers, and mandate training for catching drug-impaired drivers, but the impact would be minimal. The fact is that all of the training doesn’t matter unless those officers are actually out stopping and arresting impaired drivers. It’s a skill that requires practice. Many agencies are understaffed and spend all day chasing calls, and they don’t have the time to hunt down impaired drivers. Even if officers had the available time, they would have to be motivated and comfortable with their skill level to find and arrest marijuana-impaired drivers. Training is unlikely to make this happen.
If police officers had a way to test for THC on the roadside, it would simplify the detection process and allow officers to arrest impaired drivers who they would have otherwise allowed to go free and endanger lives. We currently don’t have any legal tests which make roadside THC testing possible, although several technologies are in development. Once these tests are available, we need the funding to implement them, and laws which impose civil penalties for refusing to submit to the test. We can’t wait years on this, people are dying.
3. Use marijuana money to increase funding for specialized traffic patrol officers
This is the most simple solution. More traffic patrol officers will result in more impaired drivers getting stopped. Washington State actually has specialized units and emphasis patrols to stop DUI drivers, but their reach is much smaller than it could be. Most other states do not even have the specialized DUI enforcement units that Washington State does. If marijuana tax can be used to fund additional traffic patrol officers, then we could have officers whose job it is to primarily locate DUI drivers, rather than respond to calls. We need more officers on the road who are specially trained and have the time to find DUI drivers.
All states which legalize marijuana are about to see a huge surge of impaired drivers. If law enforcement isn’t ready for it, then people will be killed. Please contact your local legislators, share this article with them and ask others to do the same, and ask them to create new laws for support law enforcement in stopping these impaired drivers.
Do you think that we will ever be able to stop people from driving while impaired? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.