Though it is legal to use marijuana in the state of California, it is still very much illegal to drive under its influence.
In the past, driving under the influence (DUI) generally referred to operating a vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol, but has always meant any form of impaired driving caused by chemical use; the law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs. With the new cannabis legislation, the soon to be opening of Grover Beach’s first retail cannabis store and the trend of opioid addictions throughout the country, there would suggest that DUI incidents should be on the rise.
However, according to statistics provided by Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters, their DUI arrests numbers average around 65 per year. “…it fluctuates, but there is not a current significant increase,” said Chief Peters. “This will be an area that we will monitor closely given the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
Currently, GB police can only test for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating chemical caused by the use of marijuana, with a blood draw or urine test performed at a hospital. Drivers who refuse these tests are subject to longer driver’s license suspensions and revocations, according to the California Driver’s Handbook. Other tests such as a cheek swab can detect THC in the saliva, but the GBPD has not adopted that as of yet. It’s worth noting that if a person is not able to drive correctly, even if their blood alcohol content (BAC) does not exceed the .08 limit they can still be charged. For example, even though a person’s breath only registers a .07 on a breathalyzer, they are still subject to a DUI citation.
The department is trained by the Highway Patrol to perform a standardized field sobriety test and has gone through the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training program. According to the course, it trains law enforcement officers to observe, identify, and articulate the signs of impairment related to drugs, alcohol or a combination of both to reduce the number of impaired driving incidents, serious injury, and fatal crashes.
According to SLOHeathCounts.org, a statistic gathering website developed by San Luis Obispo Department of Public Health, between 2012-2016 36.1 percent of vehicle deaths in the County were caused by alcohol impairment. SLO County sits at 6.7 percent higher than for the state of California which is at 29.4 percent. The data gathered by SLOHeathCounts.org originated from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
By Mark A. Diaz