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How Will Police Know I’m too Stoned to Drive?

Nov 23rd, 2018 OWI How Will Police Know I’m too Stoned to Drive?

It is an undeniable truth that police officers have a much more difficult time detecting stoned drivers when compared with the relatively easy task of detecting drunk drivers. There are many reasons for this and first among them is that marijuana does not impact driving anywhere near the way alcohol does. It is also debatable whether marijuana impairs a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle at all.  Debate aside, with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan there is little doubt that police will begin arresting more stoned drivers.  Which begs the question; how will the police know you’re too stoned to drive?

At the beginning, the stoned-driving investigation will closely mimic a drunk driving investigation.  A driver will be stopped for some identifiable violation of the traffic code, such as driving too slowly, disobeying traffic signals and so on. When the police first approach the driver, they will be looking for any signs or symptoms of marijuana use.  Like alcohol, the most tell-tale sign will be the odor of marijuana, which is obviously much more difficult to detect in the case of consumables.  The police will be looking for pupil dilation and eyes that otherwise appear stoned.  Additionally, the police will be looking for packaging or paraphernalia commonly associated with marijuana use.  If marijuana use is suspected, the police will seek an admission to the prior use of marijuana.  The next step may be either to request a preliminary breath test and/or to request the driver’s participation in the administration of field sobriety tests.  The purpose of all this is to determine if in fact the person is impaired and to rule out the possibility that alcohol is causing the impairment.

After a driver blows all zeros (or very low) on the alcohol preliminary breath test, the police officer will need to decide whether to call in a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert). The police officer will also need to decide if they have enough evidence to arrest the driver at this point, or if the DRE needs to continue the investigation at the roadside. In preparation for all of this, in 2016 Michigan expanded its definition of the Drug Recognition Expert.

If a DRE is consulted, the DRE will administer a 12-step evaluation the purpose of which is to determine if the person is impaired and if so, to further determine which of the 7 drug categories is involved.  These 7 categories include CNS Depressants, CNS Stimulants, Hallucinogens, Dissociative Anesthetics, Narcotic Analgesics, Inhalants, and Cannabis.  At the conclusion of the examination, the driver’s blood will be drawn to confirm the presence and the amount of THC in the driver’s blood.

The 12 steps of the DRE include:

  1. List the twelve components of the Drug Influence Evaluation in the proper sequence.
  2. Breath Alcohol Test
  3. Interview of Arresting Officer
  4. Preliminary Examination
  5. Eye Examinations
  6. Divided Attention Tests
  7. Vital Signs Examinations
  8. Darkroom Examinations
  9. Check for Muscle Tone
  10. Injection Sites Inspection
  11. Statement of Suspect
  12. Evaluator’s Opinion
  13. Toxicological Examination

Armed with the initial observations and testimony of the police officer that stopped your car, combined with the DRE’s testimony relative to the 12-step evaluation and the toxicology report from the blood test, the prosecutor will have plenty of evidence to present to a jury at a trial for alleged violation of Michigan’s law against Operating While Intoxicated by marijuana.