ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Road patrol officers had some advice for drivers on the day marijuana, a drug they once policed, became legal.
“If you’re going to use marijuana, plan accordingly,” Michigan State Police Trooper Brandon Davis, whose based out of the Rockford Post, said. “Just like you would if you were going out to the bar and drinking, get to a place. If you’re going to do that, do it there and don’t drive.”
Target 8 sat down with officers from two West Michigan law enforcement agencies to find out what drivers need to know about legal pot’s impact on enforcement of traffic laws.
“We’re looking for impaired drivers to get them off the road,” Kent County Sheriff's Department Deputy Ryan Dannenberg said.
Marijuana may be legal, but driving impaired because of it is not.
“There’s concern because people don’t fully understand the level to which marijuana can impair your driving,” Dannenberg said.
The officers who spoke to Target 8, all of whom are specially trained and certified as Drug Recognition Experts, say they see it firsthand. They worry the new law will mean more crashes.
“There is that portion of the population that, just like alcohol, they’re going to smoke and they’re going to drive,” Dannenberg said.
But unlike alcohol, there’s no specific blood level at which you’re deemed impaired, nothing equivalent to alcohol’s .08 blood alcohol content level limit for driving.
Michigan also has no accepted method of measuring pot in your system roadside and it’s unclear what, if any, penalties drivers might face if they refuse the standard “walk a straight line” field sobriety test.
There are penalties for refusing portable breathalyzer and blood tests used to measure alcohol. Refusing a PBT will get you a civil ticket, while refusing a blood test will get your license suspended for one year.
Dexterity drills are an important tool to establish probable cause to arrest a driver for operating under the influence of drugs. That’s especially true if police don’t witness erratic driving, but instead stop a vehicle for an equipment violation and then notice signs of marijuana intoxication.
“We have to prove impairment,” explained Deputy Omar Dieppa, a DRE with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.
If police can demonstrate impairment roadside and a blood test at jail shows even a small amount of pot in your system, you’re facing a charge of operating under the influence of drugs.
On Wednesday night, one day before the law change, Dieppa stopped a vehicle for tinted windows.
“There’s an odor of marijuana coming out of his vehicle,” Dieppa reported after talking to the driver. Speaking with him, he’s admitting he was just at a friend’s house where they are smoking marijuana, and he says it’s the residual odor that’s on his person. ... His eyes are fine. He’s denying smoking himself. He’s not showing any observable signs of marijuana use.”
Dieppa ultimately let the driver go without asking him to undergo a field sobriety test on him.
“Again, it’s just like alcohol. If you stop somebody and you smell alcohol, that doesn’t mean they’re impaired of intoxicated at that point,” Trooper Davis explained. “Really, there’s no difference. Again, if we stop somebody and we smell alcohol, that doesn’t mean they’re getting arrested. We still have to show impairment. We have to articulate impairment.”
>>Inside woodtv.com: Marijuana in Michigan
When 24 Hour News 8 asked a defense attorney whether she would advise allegedly drugged drivers to refuse a field sobriety test, she said she would not offer any guidance in that regard.
Sarissa Montague of Levine & Levine in Kalamazoo said she would not offer blanket guidance in that regard. She said because of the newness of the statue and the gray areas that exist, each situation needs to be considered on a case by case basis.
“When somebody is stopped for drunk driving, rules have been established such that a person should know what the potential consequences are for not complying with a portable breath test (for alcohol),” Montague explained.
“We don’t know yet what the potential consequences are for failing to comply with a sobriety test in a drugged driving case," she continued. "Theoretically, if you don’t comply, could they try to say you’re obstructing and resisting? We’re in a transition period here. There are issues that are going to have to be determined legislatively and through the courts.
“Do you want to be the test case?”
As a lawyer, Montague said she looks forward to the challenge, but as a citizen, that transitional period can prove difficult.
Montague also questioned whether standard field sobriety tests, designed to identify alcohol intoxication, should be used to detect impairment from marijuana use.
"What is your scientific basis upon which that’s an appropriate test to be giving?”