Driving Under the Influence of … Marijuana?

Marijuana won’t be legal in Illinois for another six months, but state police are already making preparations. They are researching saliva-based tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) testing; training cadets on Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and increasing the number of Drug Recognition Experts on patrol; evaluating the official state criminal history repository to identify individuals whose cannabis-related offenses will be eligible under the new law for being automatically expunged.

That’s all according to a memo issued by Illinois State Police on Thursday, just days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana come January.

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Law enforcement groups like the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and the state’s Association of Chiefs of Police fought against legalizing marijuana, with the threat of increased traffic accidents and fatalities caused by drivers under the influence of cannabis a primary concern.  

“There are people driving on the road today who have used cannabis,” Pritzker said. “But it is important for us to provide the tools law enforcement will need.”

To that end, 8% of state revenue from marijuana sales will go toward local crime prevention and training efforts.

Illinois State Police will lead a new DUI Cannabis Task Force, charged with making recommendations by next July on public safety policies.

What makes marijuana complicated is that there is no easy test, like a Breathalyzer, that can easily and immediately detect whether someone is impaired by the drug.

Illinois law does provide some guidance on this topic, though.

State statue has some general provisions: Someone shall not drive or control a vehicle under a drug or combination of drugs that renders the person incapable of safely driving.

State law also gets more specific.

In a criminal or civil trial, “it shall be presumed that the person was under the influence of cannabis” if a whole blood test detects a THC concentration of 5 nanograms or more.

For concentrations less than that, a person is presumed not to be under the influence of cannabis, but other evidence could be used to make that case.

“The thing we have to remember is with cannabis legalization, usage doesn’t change very significantly. The same population that’s using now is by and large the same population that’s going to be using after Jan. 1, 2020. So we’re just giving more tools,” sponsor Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said Tuesday.

Already, state police have a unit overseeing Illinois’ medical marijuana program, which randomly inspects cultivation centers that grow cannabis and the dispensaries that sell it.

Per the state police’s memo Thursday, that unit will from now on also assume regulatory duties for the recreational cannabis program.

“The (Illinois State Police) will develop inspection regulations for the new entities in the program and provide personnel with additional training on physical security in order to provide the proper oversight for the new cannabis entities,” the memo reads. “The ISP will also provide personnel with analytical support for the large expansion of the program, to ensure the safety and welfare of not only the patients and users of the program, but also, the citizens of Illinois and guests traveling to or through Illinois.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

Related stories:

800,000 Eligible to Clear Their Record in Illinois Legal Pot

Pritzker Signs Bill Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

CPS Taking New Look at Punishments for Marijuana, Substance Abuse

Why Marijuana is a Messy Business for Banks

If Pot is Legalized in Illinois, What Happens to Medical Marijuana?

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