Impaired driving no longer means just drunk driving. Police state wide will be on high alert for drivers under the influence of marijuana once it becomes legal on January 1st.
Bloomington Assistant Chief Greg Scott said the policing process isn’t much different. They look for the same signs of impaired driving. Swerving, driving too slow, long stops, missing traffic lights, are all signs they look for.
But unlike for alcohol, they can’t perform a field test like a breathalyzer for marijuana. “We don’t have any of that at this point for cannabis. Honestly our process at this point is we pull you over, we don’t smell alcohol, we think it might be drugs, we go to the hospital,” explained Scott.
Once they take a suspected drugged driver to the hospital, a urine and blood test is performed. In Illinois, much the same as other state like Colorado and Michigan, the legal limit for THC in the blood is 5 nanograms per milliliter. An NPR report says 13 nanograms per milliliter would be similar to a person driving drunk.
Scott said with that extra step of going to the hospital for bloodwork, a DUI stop for marijuana could take an hour or more longer for the officer than a stop for alcohol. With extra time being spent on these calls, Scott worries staffing could be an issue. “It’s a concern because we’re already low staffed on second and third shift. I just don’t have a bunch of officers sitting around waiting on the next call. Second shift typically is running from call to call to call to call so if i take one officer out on a DUI that just means the other officers have to pick up more of the slack,” explained Scott.
In addition to picking up the slack, Scott said training will be an issue. There aren’t any methods in use yet, and there aren’t very many studies to cite said Scott. He mentioned it will be a learning process for everyone, trying to find ways to better detect and determine if someone is driving high.
Money becomes an issue also. Scott said they will have to spend more money on training and equipment. Once a field test is developed that will cost the department thousands of dollars to implement. Scott said the longer time spent on a drug DUI may cause the department to dip into the overtime budget also.
He said Carol Stream Police are field testing a swab collection test that would allow for officers in the field to better determine potential toxicology. But he predicts that test, if successful, wouldn’t be available and passed by the courts for several years.