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Bill could help police with marijuana-impaired driving arrests

Posted at 3:16 PM, Feb 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 19:26:46-05

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers are trying to prevent a spike in impaired crashes across Oklahoma, one that has been seen in numerous states that have legalized marijuana.

As the medical marijuana industry grows across the state, organizations like AAA are bracing for a rise in impaired drivers being involved in accidents. In Oklahoma, AAA looks at statistics in other states that have legalized marijuana, like Washington, which saw its number of THC-impaired drivers in fatal accidents jump 10 percent after recreational marijuana was legalized.

Law enforcement in Oklahoma could be getting more direction in what to do when they suspect someone is driving high. Rep. Scott Fetgatter says there's no clear way for law enforcement to determine someone's impairment when they make a stop.

That's what House Bill 3960 aims to fix, by saying exactly what an officer needs to observe.

"The problem with DUI as it relates to cannabis is that it's very challenging to determine impairment," Fetgatter said. "I can't sleep at night knowing somebody could potentially be charged with a DUI that was not impaired at the time, and at the same time I want to make sure that if you are impaired our law enforcement officers have the sufficient evidence they need to prosecute."

THC can be picked up in a blood test two weeks after use, and depending on the person and what they took, effects can last two to five hours, or even more, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

There is also an issue with testing after a crash in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. After a crash, if alcohol is found in a person's system, the crash is designated alcohol-related. However, this does not catch any other factors, so the state is developing program to test for everything.

There have been different programs throughout the state to help officers identify when someone is driving high. In Muskogee, officers observed the effects on several people as they drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, and texted on a closed course. It turned out, the marijuana drivers slowed their total course time by 10-15 percent each round.

Oklahoma is also considering solutions to the issue, like implementing drug recognition experts who can be called to a scene. However, Fetgatter says they are stretched too thin across the state.

Oklahoma could also become the first state to try a marijuana breathalyzer pilot program - a concept and product developed in California.

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