Thursday, September 20, 2018

Opinion

Marijuana, driving a risky combination

  • Marijuana-Refereundum-Michigan-1

    Peter Morgan

Recreational marijuana may never be legal in Wisconsin.

That decision ultimately will be made by the people and their elected representatives in Madison. Nine states and Washington, D.C., however, have legalized the drug’s use.

Even in states that haven’t made the move, there’s a growing sense of acceptance surrounding marijuana. In fact, a Gallup poll last year showed that 64 percent of Americans support legalization.

Our initial concern is in regard to impaired driving. Last year in Wisconsin there were more than 24,200 traffic convictions for impaired operation of a motor vehicle.

That’s too many.

“While alcohol-impaired driving remains a concern, many states including Wisconsin have seen an increase in drugged driving,” the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said in a recent news release, “people whose ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is compromised by legal or illegal drugs including opioids, prescription and over-the-counter medications.”

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A recent San Diego Union-Tribune editorial called for improved roadside testing of marijuana. Pot is legal in California.

The editorial cited a recent accident in saying it was “the latest incident to illustrate the absolute need to develop tests that can reliably detect marijuana intoxication. It’s crucial to public safety.”

We agree.

The Union-Tribune reported that San Diego police use Drager DrugTest 5000 machines that rely on oral swabs to confirm the presence of drugs in the body. Follow-up blood tests are conducted on positive tests.

However, the editorial also said the machines have “plenty of skeptics.”

“Some authorities in Australia and Ireland have lost faith in the devices’ accuracy and reliability,” the story read. “Closer to home, last year, an official with the Orange County district attorney’s office voiced similar concerns, citing unacceptably high numbers of false test results.”

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The Eau Claire Police Department does not employ roadside testing for marijuana, but that doesn’t mean incidents of impaired driving due to pot are not on its radar. State law does not limit operating while intoxicated infractions to alcohol. Blood tests are the primary tool for determining the type of drug used and its concentration.

“We at the Eau Claire Police Department are looking for impairment regardless of what substance is used,” spokeswoman Bridget Coit said.

The ECPD also has two drug recognition experts who can be tasked with an investigation. Wisconsin has 276 of the experts overall, which is among the most in the nation, according to WisDOT. It added that 3,800 Wisconsin law enforcement officers have been trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE).

Hopefully, relaxed attitudes about pot will not translate to more cases of impaired driving. Whether or not recreational marijuana use ever comes to fruition in this state, it cannot become socially or legally acceptable to drive while high. If new approaches to roadside testing is called for in some jurisdictions, so be it. The potential cost — loss of life — is simply too high.


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