There is a growing national trend to legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana. Currently thirty-four states allow for medical marijuana and cannabis programs, while ten states permit recreational marijuana use. Illinois joined the trend when it passed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act in 2013, making medical marijuana use legal for people who acquire medical cannabis registry cards. Just a few years later the Illinois legislature decriminalized the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana.
In the wake of marijuana reform, police officers face new challenges when it comes to determining if a driver is impaired by marijuana. While law enforcement can easily test for alcohol-impaired driving using an alcohol breathalyzer, testing for marijuana impairment is difficult due to limitations of drug-detecting technology. Currently, police officers most commonly employ field sobriety tests to determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. However, these tests are not completely reliable because drivers can use products such as eye drops or breath mints to hide signs of impairment.
Several companies have begun to develop marijuana breathalyzers that operate much like alcohol breathalyzers. The driver blows into the device for thirty seconds and indicator bars show whether THC is present in his or her breath. Companies producing marijuana breathalyzers claim they can accurately detect whether a driver has smoked marijuana in the last two hours. While a few police departments planned to start testing the marijuana breathalyzer in 2018, questions remain whether courts will allow the device’s results to be admitted into evidence.
Roadside blood sampling is another method being tested by law enforcement. In states like Arizona, police officers are being trained to draw drivers’ blood in DUI police vans equipped with a special chair and table for blood testing. Because search warrants are required for blood draws, police officers are using on-call judges who can approve warrants electronically in a matter of minutes. According to the National Highway Safety Agency, Illinois is one of several states that will start a blood-draw program. Opponents of such programs claim that blood-draws conducted outside of medical facilities present health concerns as well as possible violations of constitutional rights.
While new methods for detecting marijuana-impaired driving may be coming soon, field sobriety tests remain the common method for Illinois law enforcement. A police officer must have reasonable suspicion of impaired driving in order to subject a driver to the tests, and refusal to submit to testing will result in suspension of the driver’s license. If you have been charged with driving under the influence of marijuana or alcohol, the experienced attorneys at Finegan & Rinker can provide you the skilled representation needed to achieve a favorable outcome.