Pubdate: Sun, 12 Oct 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Michael Pollick
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Two years from now, Florida police may have a new category of
impairment to consider: driving under the influence of a
physician-recommended intoxicant.

Assuming Amendment 2 passes on Nov. 4 allowing the use of medical
marijuana in the state, residents would be able to treat a raft of
conditions - ranging from cancer to glaucoma - with the plant.

But legal or no, getting behind the wheel after using pot would still
be a bad decision.

Sergeant Robert Jovanovski of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office
already is prepared. He has equipped many of his deputies with
penlights and the training on how to spot marijuana users and how to
question them during field sobriety tests.

"Those tests are set up for one thing, and that is pretty much
failure," said Darren Finebloom, a Sarasota DUI defense lawyer.

Even good defenses are costly. A first-time DUI case might cost $2,500
to $3,500 to take to court, Finebloom notes.

Marijuana accounts for only about 10 percent of his cases, Finebloom

"It's not a big number," he said.

But if Amendment 2 passes, experts believe as many as 400,000
residents could have access to marijuana, based on state estimates.

How many will be simply converting over from illegal to legal pot is
an unknown.

Further complicating the situation is that there is little solid
research on how much marijuana is too much. By contrast, a person in
Florida is considered legally drunk if their blood alcohol content is
.08 or above.

That could change, however, just in time for election day. The results
of the first federally financed study on driving under the influence
of marijuana are expected to be released later this month, by the
National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sarasota County Sheriff's deputies use a number of standardized field
tests to determine sobriety.

They include walking and turning; standing on one leg while counting
or reciting the alphabet; and eye movement tests using a penlight.

Jovanovski and five others in the Sheriff's Office are now considered
experts in such tests, following a series of training seminars.

"My guys are so developed that if they look at your eyes, they are
going to know whether you're going to do poorly later or better
later," Jovanovski said. "The eyes are really the true signs."

Neill Franklin, a retired law enforcement officer who now serves as
executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, would like
to see more law enforcement officials get the kind of specialized
training Jovanovski and his colleagues have received.

Legalizing marijuana, in Franklin's view, would free up police
resources to do just that.

"In states where we are moving forward, we are training more and more
police officers to qualify as drug recognition experts," Franklin said.

At least one analysis concludes that in states where medical marijuana
is legal, deaths on roadways did not increase.

A 2013 study published by the University of Chicago's law school and
business school looked at traffic fatalities after marijuana is
legalized for medical use.

In 19 states, in the first full year after implementation, researchers
found that traffic fatalities decreased by 8 percent to 11 percent.

The study, "Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol
Consumption," states that legalization is typically associated with a
decrease in the price of marijuana and a decrease in alcohol
consumption, "which suggests that marijuana and alcohol are

But researchers acknowledged their work "does not necessarily imply
that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving
under the influence of alcohol."

Dr. Marilyn Heustis of the National Institute on Drug Abuse is being
even more proactive.

Last year, Heustis ran a complicated set of tests with the National
Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa to measure
driving impairment on high and low doses of marijuana, and then with
low doses of alcohol.

The simulator consists of a specialized car inside a 24-foot dome.
Both accelerator and brake pedals use software to provide drivers with

"An illicit drug had never been tested in this wonderful facility
before," said Heustis, referring to marijuana.

Like Sgt. Jovanovski, Heustis pays a lot of attention to her subjects'

"We actually have cameras on their eyes the whole time," Heustis

In this way, her team can quantify how often a given subject is
checking their periphery.

"They can also see changes when something enters from the periphery,
so it will be a very nice look at how narrowed their vision might be."

Heustis designed a 45-minute test geared to challenge subjects on
specific mental skills, such as making quick decisions.

"It is a special drive focused on the areas that we know cannabis
affects," she said. "This drive really challenges people."

Those test results also should be available right around election

While she will not discuss the results in advance, divided attention
and lack of peripheral vision are often problems for
marijuana-impaired drivers.

"Many times the kind of accidents you hear about with cannabis are
suddenly a child comes out on a bicycle or a deer runs across the
road" Heustis said. "Their ability to respond is slowed." 
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