VANCOUVER -- The Washington State Patrol is requiring troopers to complete training in “Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement.” The training is part of a course to help troopers spot people driving while high on marijuana.
In Washington, driving under the influence is no longer just about alcohol. The legalization of marijuana has added a new dimension to patrols.
Troopers use a 5 nano-gram basis, much like the .08 level for alcohol, to determine if a person is driving while high on pot.
“This became a law in Washington, We're going to monitor it, we're going to pay attention to it and if some adjustments need to be made in the way we do business, then we're going to make the adjustments,” said Sgt. Jason Hicks of the WSP.
So far, adjustments seem to be needed. In 2012 there were 5,298 samples tested from drivers pulled-over in Washington, and 988 of them came back positive for marijuana.
In just the first 6 months of 2013, 2,739 samples were taken, and 745 have tested positive. If that trend continues, driving high will increase more than 33 percent this year.
“So marijuana is all about impairment," Hicks said. "That's just what runs the show.”
Hicks is a drug recognition expert for the WSP. He said users have a problem multi-tasking while behind the wheel. He said one of two things usually happens.
First, a person driving high is going the speed limit, but weaving in and out of traffic or failing to use their turn signals. And secondly, “They're driving straight as an arrow and they're either above the speed limit significantly or below the speed limit significantly, because they cannot look at the speedometer and make sure they drive straight at the same time,” he said.
Driving experts say once a driver becomes impaired, their vision and perspective immediately changes.
“As you start getting impaired your field of vision shrinks and shrinks and shrinks and shrinks, and then it becomes as small as goggles,” says Nikki Bisconer, the owner of Driving 101 driving school. “So the myths, about if you just have a beer, or if you just had one bong hit are false.”
There is no breathalyzer for marijuana, but troopers know exactly what they’re looking for when they’re on the road -- kind of like a field sobriety test for alcohol.
Sgt. Hicks said impairment for marijuana can be detected in a number of ways.
“I go right immediately into something else, ask the question, is there any pre-existing medical conditions that would cause your eyes to be watery and bloodshot?” Hicks said.
For now, because the law is still relatively new, the State Patrol is requiring troopers to complete the training because as the laws change so does the enforcement.