Pubdate: Tue, 25 Aug 2015
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2015 Dayton Daily News
Author: Jim Otte


Law Enforcement Officials: Impairment Rules Need to Be Set.

The campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio has raised fears about an 
increase in people driving under the influence, despite assurances 
from supporters of Issue 3 that other states that have legalized 
marijuana have not seen a dramatic increase in accidents.

Passage of the issue on the statewide ballot in November would allow 
anyone over the age of 21 to buy and use marijuana for medicinal or 
recreational purposes. Law enforcement is voicing the loudest 
concerns about drugged driving.

"Our state and our county already have an addiction problem," said 
Capt. Mike Brem of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

Brem, who heads the anti-drug RANGE Task Force, said he and others 
fear legalizing marijuana will lead to more impaired drivers.

"When a driver is impaired, the police officer picks up some of the 
same cues they would with alcohol. Whether it would be driving in and 
out of lanes, wide turn, headlights turned off ... some of those cues 
are the ones when someone has been smoking marijuana," he said.

Marijuana supporters argue that Ohio drivers will not be in any 
additional danger if Issue 3 passes.

"Just like drinking and driving, marijuana use and driving is 
strictly prohibited under Issue 3, and the state legislature will be 
required to pass laws with criminal penalties for doing so," said 
Faith Oltman, spokeswoman for ResponsibleOhio.

The constitutional amendment would direct the legislature to 
"determine an acceptable and uniform standard of determining 
impairment based on performance testing, to restrict persons impaired 
by cannabis products for personal use from operating, navigating, or 
controlling any motor vehicle, aircraft, or motorboat."

Oltman pointed to studies from the U.S. Department of Transportation 
showing traffic fatalities nationwide have dropped in recent years - 
including in states where marijuana use is legal.

If marijuana is legalized, law enforcement officers will have to 
undergo additional training.

Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer, president of the Buckeye State 
Sheriffs' Association, said the legislature will have to take action 
to determine at what point marijuana use will constitute driving illegally.

"What is the legal limit going to be? Is it affecting you in three 
days (after use)? The medical community will have to step in and say, 
'This is bad because,' or 'This is OK once you get back to here,' 
just like everybody saying .08 percent is the presumed 'under the 
influence' for alcohol," Fischer said.

Additional K-9 training also would be needed, because police dogs are 
trained to detect the scent of marijuana. Montgomery County has four 
K-9's certified in narcotics detection.

"Marijuana has always been a type of drug that our K-9's are trained 
to alert on," Brem said. "So if that is taken out of the equation for 
probable cause for a stop, that will have to be trained out of the dog."

Defense Attorney Tom Kopacz, who handles traffic cases, including 
alcohol and marijuana, said current roadside sobriety tests are 
designed more to detect alcohol. He agreed with Fischer that clear 
standards will have to be established and said impairment should be the focus.

"It is all about the user and the frequency," he said. "If you smoked 
marijuana three days ago and you are a heavy user, it is going to be 
in your system but no one will know. You walk normal. You talk 
normal. You are not impaired."

Police agencies currently can obtain a blood or urine test for THC, 
the active chemical ingredient in marijuana, but that can take time. 
Both Kopacz and Fischer said law enforcement in Ohio will need some 
sort of mobile device for measuring THC levels.

Several companies are developing such devices, including a Canadian 
company called Cannabix Technologies.

Company president Kal Malhi, a former member of the Royal Canadian 
Mounted Police, said a prototype is being tested.

He said police officers worldwide lack the tools to present evidence 
that will stand up in court when drivers are suspected of driving 
while impaired.

"We are now able to detect THC in breath. Studies have been done that 
say the lungs eliminate THC in two hours. If we are testing breath 
for THC, our tests will only test positive for a two-hour period," Malhi said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom