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Bellingham
Thursday, February 25, 2021

Police improve tactics to detect marijuana-impaired drivers


Unlike alcohol, police have no way to test for marijuana-impaired drivers but as technology progresses to find the answer, the Bellingham Police Department has been improving their tactics to identify drugged drivers.

A marijuana Breathalyzer is being prototyped by the Washington State University chemistry department but the technology is still several years from being used in the field, according to an NPR interview with Herb Hill, a WSU chemistry professor.

“I think it’s easier to think that you can drive when you’re high versus when you’re drunkbut if you’re inebriated – you’re inebriated,” senior economics major Sam Beckman said. 

A 2004 study by National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Australia found use of marijuana when driving impairs tracking, attention, reaction time, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, vigilance, time and distance perception, decision making and concentration.

An impaired driver who is pulled over but shows a lack of alcohol detection is a clue that they are under the influence of marijuana, said Lt. Bob Vander Yacht of the Bellingham Police Department.

Vander Yacht said the most definitive way to test for marijuana is through a blood or urine test, but such tests require a warrant after an arrest has been made.

“A high percentage of our patrol officers go through amplified training in investigation of driving under the influence, where they are getting more and more education on how to detect and handle drug impaired drivers versus alcohol impaired drivers,” Vander Yacht said.

According to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2013, 9.9 million people have reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.

Comparatively, an estimated 28.7 million people were reported driving under the influence of alcohol, according to a 2013 study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“I think people should be really cognizant of what’s in their body before they get into a vehicle,” junior elementary education major Katherine Feltner said. “I know there are a lot of services available like taxis, late night shuttles or public transportation around. They should think about other people and their safety before they drive.”

 

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