Illinois law-enforcement officials are “incredibly unprepared” for the potential upswing in impaired driving that could result from legalization of recreational use of marijuana.
That view of the impact of House Bill 1438 came from a Chicago-area police officer spearheading a pilot program to develop a roadside chemical test for marijuana.
Sgt. Brian Cluever, director of traffic safety at the Carol Stream Police Department, said technology to accurately check saliva for cannabis-related impairment and support driving-under-the-influence cases in courts is months and potentially years away in Illinois and other states.
And unlike alcohol, there’s no breath test for marijuana.
In addition, Cluever said it’s unclear how much it will cost and how long it will take to train more Illinois police officers on how to interview people and conduct field sobriety tests for marijuana. The field tests for pot are different from alcohol but still can be used to arrest and charge drivers with marijuana-related DUI.
Those various challenges will put police in a “tough spot,” Cluever said last week. “We won’t be ready by Jan. 1, 2020.”
But the saliva testing program that the Carol Stream Police Department began using in early 2018 for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, opiates and other drugs has slowed because problems with the testing equipment prompted the department to change suppliers, Cluever said.
Testing with equipment from a new supplier began only this year, and the equipment isn’t sensitive enough detect the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, down to the legal limit in Illinois — 10 nanograms per milliliter in saliva, he said. The equipment is sensitive only to 40 nanograms, he said.
Illinois’ legal limit for THC in blood for drivers is 5 nanograms/ml.
A trial of saliva-testing equipment in Michigan could detect THC no lower than 25 nanograms/ml. A February report on the Michigan pilot program said results were encouraging but that more study was needed.
A 2017 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration highlighted the challenges facing law enforcement.
The report said surveys show there was a 48 percent increase in the prevalence of drivers testing positive for THC at any level from 2007 to 2013-14, with 8.6 percent positive in 2017 and 12.6 percent positive in 2013-14.
At the same time, the report said the percentage of drivers testing positive for alcohol at any level declined from 12.4 percent in 2007 to 8.3 percent in 2013-14.
The report pointed out that the driving risks posed by alcohol use have been well known for decades, while “relatively little” is known about the risks posed by marijuana and other drugs.
There’s evidence that marijuana “impairs psychomotor skills, divided attention, lane tracking and cognitive function,” but “its role in contributing to the occurrence of crashes remains less clear,” the report said.
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