Just within the last couple of weeks, the state of California has announced a new program (and increased funding) directed at "catching drivers" who are operating their vehicles while under the influence of drugs.
Most of us are familiar with alcohol-related DUIs, but less are familiar with DUIs involving drugs. While it is illegal to drive under the influence of either type of substance, it is definitely harder for a law enforcement officer to prove a driver has been taking drugs. For example, when an officer approaches a driver who has been consuming large amounts of alcohol, the officer may be able to smell liquor on his breath or clothing. It's just simply not as easy as that with drugs.
The new program is specifically focused around marijuana use. Officers agree that prescription drugs are a growing problem, too, but they have dedicated this funding to curbing marijuana use while driving. In the fall of last year, the California Office of Traffic Safety released a report that highlighted the alleged problem. In 2012, the state began a study which tested drivers for alcohol and drugs. Of the drivers who tested positive for drugs, marijuana was the most prevalent.
There are a few problems that arise when people discuss the issue of driving under the influence of marijuana. To begin with, there is no simple equivalent regarding a “legal limit.” This is to say that most people know that the legal limit for alcohol is .08% BAC (blood alcohol content), but there is not anything similar for marijuana.
Next, there is not a clear, consistent attitude towards marijuana. It is not as easy to persuade a jury that the driver was at fault for driving while having a small amount of marijuana in his system. Juries understand that driving under the influence of alcohol is wrong and that accidents, injuries, and deaths can happen.
Drunk driving is constantly in the media - people are bombarded with drunk driving studies, reports, findings, and advocacy groups all the time. Everyone has heard of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), but I'd be willing to bet that it would be tough for an individual to name a similar type of group that is focused on marijuana.
Meanwhile, Riverside County has recently announced that it has approved a grant renewal to prosecute those who drive under the influence of both drugs and alcohol. This $484,939 grant will help to “fund the expansion of the DUI Vertical Prosecution Team that works DUI cases from arrest through sentencing.” Specifically, three specially trained deputy district attorneys will be looking to prosecute as many “drug-impaired drivers” as possible. The money is expected to last through the summer.
Personally, I am not a big fan of sobriety checkpoints and other enforcement strategies that run along those lines. This seems to be just another way for law enforcement to prove to the community that they are “doing their job” and that the money is being well-spent. My guess is that, come summer, there will be a big announcement in Riverside County letting the public know that the campaign was a success and that they were able to “arrest this many people” and “prosecute a good number of individuals” who were driving while allegedly under the influence of marijuana.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that this campaign will be any different than the traditional DUI crackdowns officers do throughout the year?