Pubdate: Wed, 06 Apr 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patrick McGreevy


A New Device Would Allow Authorities to Test for Pot, Cocaine and 
Other Drugs During Traffic Stops.

SACRAMENTO - With medical marijuana in widespread use and a ballot 
measure planned to legalize recreational pot in California, state 
officials Tuesday proposed using new technology to catch the 
increasing number of motorists who are driving while high.

Legislation would allow law enforcement officers to use oral swab 
tests to strengthen cases when there is probable cause that a driver 
is impaired and the driver has failed sobriety field tests.

A hand-held electronic device would test for the presence of 
marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and pain medications, including 
opiates, on the swab, according to Republican Sen. Bob Huff of San 
Dimas, who authored the bill.

"Sadly, we've become a nation of self-medicating, careless people," 
Huff said. "The public is naive in understanding how dangerous our 
roads are made by people who are abusing opiates, meth and cannabis."

The legislative proposal is backed by the California Police Chiefs 
Assn. and California Narcotic Officers Assn. Supporters of SB 1462 
cite a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
that found a 22% increase in drugged driving arrests between 2007 and 
2014. California voters legalized medical use of marijuana in 1996. 
Between 2009-13, the number of drivers killed in crashes who tested 
positive for drugs increased by more than 40%.

After Colorado voters legalized recreational use in 2013, marijuana- 
related traffic deaths there increased 32% in one year, according to 
a report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 
enforcement initiative.

A bill similar to the one touted Tuesday stalled in committee last 
year after medical marijuana advocates opposed it.

The new proposal is "premature," said Dale Gieringer, director of the 
California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws.

Gieringer said the technology was not widely used by law enforcement.

"Oral swab testing is still an unproven technology," Gieringer said. 
"Its accuracy has not been demonstrated in controlled, published 
scientific studies. There's no evidence that oral swab testing 
results have any correlation to impaired driving."

Test programs monitored by the federal government have been conducted 
around the country, including in Los Angeles, Fullerton and Kern 
County. The swab tests are used in place of more complicated blood 
and urine tests to detect drugs.

L. A. prosecutors found cases using the swab evidence are pleading 
out earlier than cases without it.

In what is believed to be the first successful prosecution using the 
test, a judge in Kern County admitted the swab results as evidence, 
according to Michael Yraceburn, a supervising deputy district 
attorney. If the Legislature acts to authorize use of the devices, it 
could lead to more widespread deployment, supporters said.

The bill also has the backing of Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto of 
Glendale, who underwent the test Tuesday in a demonstration at the 
Capitol that found him clean of drugs.

"Drugged driving is a serious problem that impacts every corner of 
our state," Gatto said. "This legislation is not partisan. It's 
simply the right thing to do to help save lives."

Last year, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown approved a new state 
bureau to license, regulate and tax those who grow, transport and 
sell medical marijuana. The bill also authorizes research by UC San 
Diego to lay the groundwork for new marijuana-specific field sobriety tests.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey ( R- Palmdale), a former California Highway 
Patrol officer, said the research can help refine the practices of 
officers in the field and incorporate the use of oral swab devices.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom