DRIV­ING HIGH

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By El­iz­a­beth Her­nan­dez

The Colorado State Pa­trol is test­ing tech­nol­ogy that could more ac­cu­rately de­ter­mine whether some­one is driv­ing while un­der the in­flu­ence of mar­i­juana or other drugs.

Af­ter get­ting ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of driv­ing while high, some Colorado sus­pects are also be­ing asked by se­lect Colorado State Pa­trol troop­ers, “Would you like to be a vol­un­teer in our DUI mar­i­juana pi­lot pro­gram?”

“Some­times peo­ple are glad to par­tic­i­pate, and some­times they want noth­ing to do with us,” said Ma­jor Steve Gar­cia, who is with the State Pa­trol train­ing branch.

The State Pa­trol is test­ing tech­nol­ogy that could more ac­cu­rately de­ter­mine whether some­one was driv­ing while high.

The pro­gram, which be­gan in March, is try­ing out five devices from com­pa­nies based around the coun­try. The tech­nol­ogy uses a driver’s saliva to de­ter­mine whether there are drugs in his or her sys­tem and to mea­sure the amount, Gar­cia said. The Colorado leg­is­la­ture has de­ter­mined that the le­gal limit for im­pair­ment by mar­i­juana is 5 nanograms of THC in the blood, al­though that limit is a pre­sump­tion only and has been re­jected in court.

“At least one of th­ese devices is in ev­ery sin­gle (field of­fice) across Colorado,” Gar­cia said.

The pro­gram, in which more than 125 troop­ers are trained in the new tech­nol­ogy, was rolled out in an at­tempt to com­bat a po­ten­tial rise in the num­ber of high driv­ers since the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana three years ago. The Colorado at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice kicked in $233,747 to help pur­chase the devices statewide, said AG spokesman Roger Hud­son.

The data still isn’t con­clu­sive on whether le­gal­iza­tion has in­creased im­paired driv­ing. Gar­cia said the pi­lot pro­gram’s goal is to gather bet­ter, more con­clu­sive data.

“This is a new en­tity in the state of Colorado, and the at­tor­ney gen­eral is here to sup­port and as­sist not only our cit­i­zens, but our law en­force­ment in mak­ing sure our roads are safe,” Hud­son said.

The pro­gram was au­tho­rized and funded by the mar­i­juana task force, which is made up of law en­force­ment and govern­ment of­fi­cials across the state.

The devices range in ca­pa­bil­i­ties, with some re­sem­bling a preg­nancy test and oth­ers as big as a toaster, said Glenn Davis, Colorado State Pa­trol high­way safety man­ager.

For now, the devices are a vol­un­tary ex­per­i­ment put into ac­tion only af­ter a sus­pect is ar­rested and blood is tested — the cur­rent stan­dard pro­ce­dure for test­ing THC in a driver’s blood­stream — and can’t be used to in­flu­ence the of­fi­cer’s de­ci­sion to make an ar­rest.

But the re­sults are dis­cov­er­able by the de­fense in court, mean­ing they could come up in a sus­pect’s DUI case.

So far, none have, Gar­cia said, be­cause DUI cases can take up to a year or more to process. None of the 82 vol­un­teers who have agreed to par­tic­i­pate in the mar­i­juana test­ing from March to midDe­cem­ber have had their court cases com­pleted, Gar­cia said.

“I don’t know what the courts are go­ing to say yet,” he said.

Gar­cia said it’s too early to tell whether the devices are per­form­ing well.

“I don’t want to make a judg­ment call on such a lim­ited amount of data,” he said. “I think that it’s very suc­cess­ful in re­gard to re­search­ing and de­ter­min­ing what we can do to stop im­paired driv­ers on the road­way. We can tell, so far, they seem to be work­ing as de­signed by the com­pany, but whether or not the re­sults are us­able in a court of law is yet to be de­ter­mined.”

The State Pa­trol ex­pressed reser­va­tions about re­leas­ing specifics of the pro­gram.

Gar­cia would not dis­close the com­pa­nies or devices the troop­ers are us­ing. He also de­clined to al­low a trooper who uses the devices in the field to com­ment, say­ing he did not want in­for­ma­tion to be re­leased pre­ma­turely while the study was go­ing on.

“I’m con­fi­dent that any trooper in the agency is al­ways hop­ing the tech­nol­ogy will be able to help them do their job in a more ef­fi­cient man­ner,” he said.

Jay Tiftick­jian, a prom­i­nent Den­ver DUI at­tor­ney, said the pa­trol’s re­serve was not a sur­prise.

“When­ever there’s a new de­vice they want to test, there’s a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process it has to go through,” Tiftick­jian said. “The more that us at­tor­neys know about it, the eas­ier it is to at­tack it.”

Tiftick­jian thought the sali­vat­est­ing was the next log­i­cal step law en­force­ment would take in crack­ing down on high driv­ers.

“I think any time test­ing is ac­cu­rate and can be trans­par­ent, that’s al­ways a good thing,” he said. “Saliva, just like blood, is very ac­cu­rate if done right.”

How­ever, he won­dered who would vol­un­teer to be a part of the pro­gram. None of his clients have men­tioned the op­tional test, he said.

“If any­thing is vol­un­tary, and if it’s not some­thing that could be in their fa­vor, then why would they ex­pose them­selves to that?” he said. “If any­body asked me if they should, I would ob­vi­ously tell them not to.”

The State Pa­trol wants to col­lect at least two years of data be­fore pick­ing the best de­vice — or de­cid­ing none is up to snuff.

“I don’t know if we’re go­ing to de­cide on one, three or none,” Gar­cia said.

Once a de­ci­sion is made, CSP will make a for­mal rec­om­men­da­tion to all Colorado law en­force­ment.

Troop­ers are judg­ing the devices on ease of use, of­fi­cer safety, ac­cu­racy, cost and other things.

The re­sults of the study will be pub­lished so other law en­force­ment agen­cies can eval­u­ate what might work for their de­part­ments.

Davis thinks the devices are a step in the right di­rec­tion but wor­ries the new equip­ment is not ad­vanced enough to be re­li­able.

“I just don’t feel like they’re per­fected enough to use all the time,” he said. “I think we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to look at this tech­nol­ogy, but I don’t want law en­force­ment re­ly­ing on devices that take the place of old-fash­ioned in­ves­tiga­tive skills.”

Kathryn Scott Osler, The Den­ver Post

Colorado State Trooper Ron Kras­nisky, right, shows the depart­ment’s oral fluid drug screen test­ing de­vice, which will be used dur­ing a pi­lot pro­gram. The sys­tem uses saliva to test im­paired driv­ers for mar­i­juana and other drugs.

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