Pubdate: Tue, 25 Feb 2014
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2014 The Denver Post Corp
Authors: John Ingold and Monte Whaley


Colorado State Patrol troopers cited 60 people in January for driving 
offenses in which marijuana was believed to be involved, a CSP 
sergeant said Monday in reporting the first such numbers in the state.

Trends in stoned driving have proved difficult for state officials to 
track, and the State Patrol began keeping tallies on impaired-driving 
cases involving marijuana only in January. In that month, 
stoned-driving citations made up about 15 percent of the total 
impaired-driving citations for the month, Sgt. Mike Baker said.

"This is the first year we've had such specific, quantifiable totals 
for marijuana-related citations," Baker wrote in an e-mail. "We won't 
be able to make an educated, reasonable assessment about the effect 
of the new marijuana laws for a few years at the earliest."

The State Patrol cited 332 people in January for driving under the 
influence of alcohol. Another 17 people were believed to be under the 
influence of a drug other than marijuana.

The state is stepping up training so that law officers will be able 
to spot drivers who are high on marijuana and to differentiate them 
from drivers who are impaired by alcohol.

"Pot use behind the wheel is really the big bear in the room," 
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Brian Pettit said Monday in Golden. 
"You know it's there, but nobody wants to touch it."

"But I want to protect my community," added Pettit, who works out of 
Weld County's State Patrol office. "And I want to protect my family."

Pettit is among 25 state troopers who are taking an intensive 
nine-day course on how to recognize and prosecute drivers under the 
influence of marijuana.

"In my opinion, I think marijuana-impaired driving is going to become 
more prevalent, so this was a good opportunity to better detect these 
things," he said.

When Pettit finishes, he will join 50 other state troopers who are 
certified as specially trained drug recognition experts (DRE). State 
and federal officials are pushing to get more DRE officers on 
Colorado's roads and highways.

The Colorado Department of Transportation used to hold a DRE session 
once a year.

But now, at least one other is scheduled for this year, and more are 
likely to come to help fill local and state departments with 
marijuana-detection specialists, said Glenn Davis, program manager 
for CDOT's office of transportation safety.

Currently, Davis said, there are about 190 DRE officers spread among 
the state's 55 police agencies.

"We want the most highly trained officers out there, and this class 
is one of the biggest things CDOT can offer," Davis said.

DRE candidates will be schooled on the basics of roadside 
evaluations, including the walk and turn, one-leg stand, and 
finger-to-nose and eye examinations.

Some of the tests for pot and booze impairment are similar. A Romberg 
test-maintaining balance with eyes closed - is used to gauge the loss 
of motor coordination. A suspect also is asked to estimate 30 seconds 
in his or her head, to gauge the internal clock. Failure of this test 
can be an indicator of stimulant or depressant use.

Other tests zero in on pot use exclusively. A pot smoker may have a 
reddish cast to the whites of the eyes, and pupils may be dilated.

"You smoke a bowl (of marijuana) and you are going to have bigger 
pupils," said Trooper Jerry Sharp, a DRE instructor.

A user's eyes may also not track a moving object in unison.

The training is needed since stoned driving can be tougher to spot 
than drunken driving, at least at first glance, he said. "You take 
the smell of alcohol away, and it's a bit more difficult," Sharp said.

Under Colorado's newest DUI laws, a motorist is presumed to be under 
the influence of marijuana if the driver's blood contains 5 nanograms 
or more of active THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) per milliliter 
of blood at the time of driving.

A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.

But there is no consensus on the exact amount of pot a driver must 
consume before he or she is considered under the influence. That's 
because THC is absorbed differently into the bloodstream than alcohol.

DREs are brought into cases once a street officer suspects a motorist 
is under the influence of cannabis after the roadside tests. Trainers 
on Monday emphasized the importance of going through a checklist of 
procedures before putting someone in custody.

"Everything we do is included in each standardized evaluation," said 
senior instructor and State Patrol Sgt. Rod Noga. "We do not want 
officers to make up stuff because it works for them."

More complex topics will be studied, including the nature of the 
various species of cannabis and the effects of drug combinations.

"Slowly but surely, we will get to know the territory, and 
marijuana-driving enforcement will be a lot like drunk-driving 
enforcement," Sharp said. "But we are the guinea pigs here."

The extra training is funded partially through a $400,000 grant from 
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The grant is also 
going to pay for a statewide advertising campaign warning people not 
to drive when impaired by marijuana use.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom