The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Helping police to detect impaired drivers
Volunteers consume alcohol, cannabis as part of training
On a Thursday in early February, 30 police officers gathered at the Guilford Yacht Club and waited as 18 civilian volunteers downed alcoholic drinks and took hits of marijuana.
The substance consumption was part of a combined “wet” and “green” lab, in which police officers are trained on alcohol and cannabis impairment by putting volunteers who consume alcohol and cannabis through field sobriety tests.
The lab, funded through a grant received by the state Department of Transportation, was conducted largely by Eric Jackson, executive director of the Connecticut Transportation Institute at the University of Connecticut.
DOT announced it had received $22,000 for the program in June from the Governors Highway Safety Association and Responsibility.org.
The “first-of-its kind training event in Connecticut was a huge success and both volunteers and officers learned a lot about cannabis impairment,” Jackson said in a UConn statement. The combined wet and green lab was the first ever conducted in the nation, according to the statement.
Medical, recreational users
The 18 volunteers took part in the lab, with six consuming only alcohol, six consuming only cannabis and six consuming both alcohol and cannabis, according to the statement. Volunteers were continually monitored by 18 drug recognition experts.
“All consumers underwent assessments by officers twice, once before lunch and once after lunch,” the university statement said. “Cannabis volunteers smoked or vaped cannabis twice during the eight-hour day. Alcohol-only volunteers were provided with alcohol at regular intervals throughout the day.”
The officers involved in the lab were part of an Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training program, or ARIDE, according to the statement.
After consuming the alcohol and/or cannabis, volunteers underwent a series of physical and chemical tests to explore emerging technologies used to detect impaired driving, according to the statement.
“These testing methods are currently experimental and have not yet been legislatively approved for use in Connecticut,” the statement said. “Once approved, these testing devices could enhance an officer’s ability to determine if a driver is impaired through the use saliva and breath samples to detect recent cannabis use.”
Other tests included using eye tracking and pupil dilation headsets to automate the testing and document video evidence, according to the statement.
A cannabis and green lab consultant from Extract-ED, who travels the country conducting green labs, was hired to run the one-day program, said Steve Cortese, the owner of Promesa Capital. Jackson hired Promesa Capital to help navigate the logistics of the lab.
Promesa Capital is also poised to purchase 105 acres near UConn’s depot campus, with plans to open a research lab with the university.
A nursing consultant spoke at this event, Cortese said. “She brought tactile things officers can see; this is ... different ways THC is delivered. It was fantastic. It was a room full of cops learning about cannabis, and in the other room, volunteers drinking and smoking and having a good time, then running through these roadside sobriety tests.”
Officers largely found that volunteers who were under the legal blood alcohol content level still performed poorly on the simulated road tests, supposedly due to the cannabis consumption coupled with the alcohol, Cortese said.
“The whole point of the lab is it doesn’t help officers if they’re (volunteers are) sloppy, ridiculously wasted. It’s a home run that’s obvious. They were trying to get volunteers to (a blood alcohol concentration of ) .03, so they had a beer,” Cortese said.
In Connecticut, a BAC of .08 is considered legally intoxicated for drivers age 21 and up; for those younger, a BAC of .02 is the level of legal intoxication.
“Smoking or vaping and see what that looks like with a beer and a bong hit, but part of the issue is it gets a little tough. A lot of people can get to .03 and be fine to drive, but throw a little weed in there, it really knocks people on their socks,” he said.
“It’s an interesting setup to see people clearly failing roadside sobriety test, but they are well under .08.”
Police cannabis education
The volunteers were a mix of medical marijuana users and recreational weed users, said Ann Marie Luisi-Rosado, founder of Higher Health. Based in Middletown, Higher Health advocates for medical marijuana users, working to end the stigma surrounding cannabis use and expanding an understanding of the cannabis culture.
Luisi-Rosado runs a clinic, employing certified clinicians who educate communities about the different forms of cannabis products. Higher Health was initially brought on board the lab to gather volunteers.
“At the time, Connecticut didn’t have recreational sales, so subjects were going to have to be medical marijuana patients,” Luisi-Rosado said. “The other
challenge was, do consumers or patients want to consume in front of law enforcement? I started to talk to patients and friends in the community I got backlash. They said, ‘You’re a sellout working for cops.’ At first, I took offense, but if we don’t work together, there’s always going to be that concrete barrier between the industry and law enforcement.”
After recreational cannabis sales began in the state in early January, Luisi-Rosado was able to open the lab up to non-medical cannabis users. Volunteers were promised anonymity in exchange for their participation, Luisi-Rosado said.
“It made my life much easier, however, I did want to use medical marijuana patients because I felt it was important law enforcement would understand the structure,” Luisi-Rosado said. “If they pulled over patient versus recreational user or somebody under 21, they understood the difference, not that anyone should be driving under the influence of anything. But if there was a search and seizure, we all understand each other.”
As part of the lab, Luisi-Rosado brought a series of cannabis products to educate officers on what to look for. Most officers were unfamiliar with many of the product shown, which included illegally purchased marijuana that Luisi-Rosado brought for comparison.
Since the lab is part of law enforcement officer training, the officers who participated were not able to speak about their experiences, Luisi-Rosado said.
DOT plans similar labs
DOT is “exploring future green labs and how to best assist law enforcement in enforcing the state’s impaired driving laws,” according to the UConn statement. “We hope that these tools will result in removing more impaired drivers from the road before they potentially crash and injure or kill themselves or others,” DOT spokesperson Josh Morgan said of the lab.
“We are hopeful to hold another Green Lab in the future to expand training opportunities to additional members of law enforcement. We continue to consider how to bring more training opportunities to the state, and to educate the public about how each and every one of us can stay safe on the road.”