VANCOUVER -- In six days, nearly $1 million worth of legal pot was sold in Washington State and that means a lot of people are getting high. But are those people driving stoned?
It’s a big concern of police and many citizens, too.
Law enforcement officers said driving high is nothing new for them to deal with, but their tactics are getting more refined.
There are now “drug-recognition experts" at the Washington State Patrol, Vancouver Police Department, Clark county Sheriff’s Office and in Battleground. And the drug-recognition experts are on-call all the time to respond to reports of people driving under the influence of marijuana.
Detective Jim Payne, with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said the patrols are needed.
“Folks that normally wouldn’t consume are now consuming just because they’re not breaking the law in order to do that. I think there is going to be some increase in that aspect," he said. "We’ve been catching people smoking weed and driving for years. Hopefully people are responsible."
People Unit 8 spoke with in Vancouver at Main Street Marijuana seem to think public safety goes hand-in-hand with personal responsibility.
“You should get a designated driver, it’s dangerous to drive when you’re high,” said Rick Larson.
Another customer, Bob Stearns, agreed. “I think it should be treated like any other prescription medication that has the advice of "don’t operate heavy equipment,” he said.
But when Unit 8 talked to Ryan Alston, we were surprised. He seemed to think driving high would be okay. He said he does it all the time. “Yeah, all the time, it’s a lot. Well, I’m more paranoid so I’m like, a better driver,” he said.
Alston is the driver that drug-recognition experts are trained to spot. Alston said weed helps him be a less-aggressive driver. And when we asked him about the use of a designated driver, he said he thinks that’s a good idea, if the designated driver is the least stoned person.
“If I’m too high, I kind of get out of it. I don’t even know what I’m thinking. I, like, I don’t even care what other people around me are doing.”
If Alston gets caught driving high, Deputies said he'll pay a price. “It’s going to cost you about $5,000 for the first one, and it’s double that for your second one.”
Just as .08 is the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol, the legal limit for driving under the influence of marijuana is five nanograms of active THC in your blood system. If you’re pulled over by any officer and fail a field sobriety test, the officer will immediately take you to the nearest hospital where a drug-recognition expert will meet you, get a warrant from a judge, and a technician will then take your blood whether you like it or not.
“We can hold them down at that point,” said Payne.
It takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes for a drug recognition expert to get the warrant. They can do it at any time of the day or night; even over the phone, if necessary.