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Troopers prepared to bust stoned drivers

By Ian Cull, KXLY4 Multimedia Journalist, ianc@kxly.com
Published On: Nov 29 2012 08:00:21 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 30 2012 01:52:41 AM CST
WSP Washington State Patrol logo
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Small quantities of pot will be legal for recreational use in Washington state starting next week, but the new law is still raising a lot of questions, especially when it comes to driving.

The fact is there's no breathalyzer for marijuana, so how will officers be checking for it?

Troopers have always been checking for driver impairment. If you're swerving across lanes and can't stand outside your car when you have been pulled over, you could be arrested for DUI. For years, law enforcement in Washington has been trained to identify someone who's drunk or high. A week from now -- they say -- they'll still be able to do that.

"Troopers take their action based on visible impairment, what they can see of the person's driving and their behavior after they get stopped," Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said.

Calkins added that troopers don't need a breathalyzer to tell if you're drunk or a blood draw to tell you're high. A field sobriety test is usually enough.

They also don't need either test to arrest you; a blood draw only serves as evidence against you in court.

"If there is a blood draw at some point the results of that will come back much later and will be an issue for prosecutors and defense attorneys," Calkins said.

Those tests can take about 30 days. Calkins says the evidence isn't typically needed because troopers are sworn officers of the law -- their judgment is trusted in court -- while your judgment -- if you drive high -- will not be.

Next week, the Washington State Patrol will continue to simply do their jobs, which includes busting impaired drivers. However Calkins doesn't think more people will hit the road under the influence of pot. He said the odds are still against them.

"Might be some shift of people making a bad decision to drive while impaired on alcohol to making a bad decision to drive while impaired by marijuana," he said.

Under the new law, for the first time, a limit of five nanograms of the drug in blood stream has been set. Some proponents of the law say at that point you're high, but troopers say even if your blood levels come back under that you can still be arrested and convicted for driving under the influence.

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