As more states legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, state institutions involved in drugged driving law enforcement, prosecution, toxicology testing, probation administration, and data sharing will face mounting pressure, according to a new federal safety report.
As a result, states need to take into account a range of issues — and solicit expert advice — well before implementing such a policy change in drug enforcement, according to the National Cooperative Research and Evaluation Program's (NCREP) study. The group is managed jointly by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The research is the byproduct of a 2015 meeting, during which a panel of experts in Washington, D.C., discussed the downstream effects of marijuana legalization. Panel members represented states that had already legalized medical or recreational marijuana, including Washington, Colorado, Oregon and California.
The report stresses the need for state legislators and officials to solicit feedback from a range of experts before crafting such laws.
“Educate yourself and prepare before a law is enacted,” according to the study. “Work with a broad range of stakeholders, including industry representatives, health professionals, law enforcement, criminal justice officials, communication specialists, State highway safety office personnel and toxicologists.”
The study warns against reliance on "per se" limits because “the science does not support them.” Per se laws make it illegal to drive with amounts of specified drugs in the body that exceed set limits.
The study also underscores making training and education a top priority for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, toxicologists, highway safety office personnel and members of the public. In the realm of law enforcement, the focus should be on standardized field sobriety testing, advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement, and drug evaluation and classification, the report concluded.
“Law enforcement should focus on documenting evidence of impairment,” according to the report. “Officers need to observe and document the totality of the circumstances. The presence of THC is corroborating evidence. Officers should not rely on set levels of THC.”
The study also recommends conducting public outreach and education campaigns early — long before new laws take effect. A principal goal should be to ensure the public understands that driving impaired by marijuana remains illegal, even if possession and use of marijuana become legal.
Additionally, the report advises states to involve the medical marijuana industry in discussions and planning, to strengthen relationships among members of the criminal justice system, to request a fair share of new funding streams to counterbalance increased state costs, and to secure funding for training and education efforts.
To download the report, click here.