Sheriff's Office Prepares for Impaired Drivers

By: Christy Dimond Email
By: Christy Dimond Email

With the passing of Amendment 64, many questions surface about legal limits of marijuana, since no such limit currently exists. The Colorado Judiciary Committee is reviewing a bill that would make it illegal for any driver to have more than five nanograms of THC in their system.

District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said the limit is critical to prosecuting impaired drivers.

"As it stands right now without a measurable test to prove it, we're relying on the observations of the officer," Hautzinger said. "Such as if the person stumbled or had bloodshot eyes, the same kind of things we're using for alcohol, except we don't have that additional tool of a measurable test like we do alcohol."

Mesa County Sheriff's Office isn't waiting on lawmakers before charging impaired drivers. According to Deputy Ben Carnes, drug recognition expert, any driver suspected of being impaired will go through a field sobriety test.

"When it comes to marijuana, marijuana causes significant impairment when it comes to operating a vehicle and we can test for that," Carnes said.

Someone under the influence of marijuana will have different reactions than someone who is intoxicated. Carnes said marijuana will affect the individual's 3-D vision, their sense of time and their memory.

If someone fails the field sobriety test, Carnes said an officer may ask them to undergo a blood test. The test will decipher the amount of psychoactive THC in the person's system, compared with THC that has been metabolized.

"There's a misconception that people think we're going to do a blood test on someone and that marijuana will come out in a urine or blood test a month or two months down the road," Carnes said. "That's accurate but what comes out is the metabolite. It's been metabolized out of their system and is no longer active, and we can tell the difference."

Jesse Ellis of Grand Junction said he's driven while high before and knows the effects.

"It definitely affects you, anyone who's ever been high knows what it kind of feels like and you're definitely not 100 percent when you're driving," Ellis said. "I can't speak for everybody, but for me, I have no reaction time."

Carnes said marijuana impairment can last up to two days after ingesting it.

"The euphoria goes away after three minutes to three hours, but you are still impaired," Carnes said. "This means if two days ago you smoke a joint, now you're still illegal to drive a car even though you don't feel high anymore. It's still affecting the way you think about things."

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