Uncharted Territory:

LEGAL MARIJUANA

How high is too high to drive? An exclusive new device tests if drivers have smoked too much pot. Eyewitness News‘ Angela Greenwood investigates the new device and talks with Fresno and Clovis Police Departments.

By ANGELA GREENWOOD | February 21, 2017

It’s uncharted territory. Now that pot is legal in California, are more people driving high?

"It makes me very nervous; it makes me very nervous because I'm driving to and from work," said Steve Wright, Fresno County Assistant District Attorney.

Clovis Police Officer Mark Bradford said, "I’m really saying – do yourself a favor and do not get behind the wheel and drive.”

"Do yourself a favor and do not get behind the wheel and drive."

Eyewitness News asked some locals if they drive high.

“I do, but it's not like a substance I’m under like alcohol,” said one local resident. Another one said, “It depends on how much I smoked.”

So far, local numbers are down. In Fresno, Marijuana DUIs appear to have gone down following its legalization back in November.

In Clovis, prior to the election, the Clovis Police Department didn’t track drug-related DUIs by specific substance . So marijuana data is just now being tracked.

From Oct. 31 to Dec. 31 in 2015, 15 people were arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.

Compared to only one for the same time period in 2016; that’s a 93-percent decrease.

And in Colorado – where it has been legal since 2012 – it’s a very mixed bag of data.

Colorado State Patrol shows a nearly 16-percent increase in marijuana DUIs – while Denver Police reports a 14-percent decrease.

"It’s really gonna be a little tricky because there is a not a mouth machine to blow into to tell how much nanograms of THC is in your system."

"I have not had a marijuana DUI as of yet," Bradford said.

Bradford is a traffic officer, and he hasn’t busted anyone for drive while high since Election Day. But he expects he will.

"It’s really gonna be a little tricky because there is a not a mouth machine to blow into to tell how much nanograms of THC is in your system," Bradford said.

There may be no way to measure marijuana with a breathalyzer, but there is something new on the market.
 

It’s called the Drager 5000. The bulky machine tests a person’s saliva.

"We wanted to try out this Drager 5000 machine to see if it actually works, so I agreed to take a test myself,” Eyewitness News’ Angela Greenwood said.

After a minute of swabbing, the machine begins reading.

“Benzos, amphetamines, methamphetamines, THC, opiates – they’re all negative,” Bradford said.

The machine appears to be accurate, but there’s one problem. The results only show positive or negative.

"Marijuana stays in your system for a longer time, and so they might test something I had in my system two days ago," said Abel Jara who smokes marijuana.

Lionel Hawkins lives in Fresno.

"They could have smoked two days ago; that’s dumb – it doesn't make sense," Hawkins said.

The machine – though – can be programmed to only detect certain levels of THC.

California has yet to set a limit for THC

“It depends on how the machine is going to be setup – if they're gonna be setup at 0.05 nanograms – usually it's not gonna show if you smoke weed a couple days prior," Bradford said.

Five nanograms of THC is currently the legal limit set in both Colorado and the state of Washington.

If a driver tests over that, they are believed to be impaired.

California has yet to set a limit for THC – scientifically known as tetrahydrocannabinol.

Even if it did, and if a machine like the Drager 5000 became a certified way of detecting marijuana levels, attorneys said there could still be many challenges in the courtroom.

“How are we gonna prove that the person's being high behind the wheel is affecting their capability of driving a motor vehicle in a safe and cautious manner?” Eyewitness News Legal Analyst Charles Magill said.

The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office agreed.

"We pull you over, and we suspect that you're impaired by marijuana – we're gonna treat you as being impaired by marijuana until we determine otherwise."

Wright said, “If we wanted to use evidence from one of those instruments in court, we would have to prove that it’s a reliable instrument and that it's actually testing what it says it's testing."

For now, this just added another ball to our court, Bradford said.

Officers will continue to rely on their own skills – traditional sobriety tests and blood tests to bust drivers on marijuana.

Bradford even said more law enforcement officers are being trained to become certified drug recognition experts.

"Our stand is – we pull you over, and we suspect that you're impaired by marijuana – we're gonna treat you as being impaired by marijuana until we determine otherwise," Bradford said.

Marijuana may be legal to use in California, but driving high isn’t.
 

2014-2016 DUI's with THC/Marijuana for Fresno, California

Statistics data from the Fresno Police Department's phlebotomist.

96

THC/Marijuana only

285

Alcohol / THC / Drug combination

1702

Total Blood Draws

2014-2016 THC / Marijuana Only DUI's for Fresno, California

2014-2016 Alcohol / THC / Drug Combination DUI's for Fresno, California

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