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'Driving high' a cloudy issue

Driving under the influence of marijuana is not safe, Oklahoma law officers say. Others say marijuana use does not impair most drivers who smoke.
by Robert Medley Modified: March 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: March 17, 2014

Oklahoma City police Sgt. David Roberts noticed a driver swerve into oncoming traffic.

As he was pulling over the car, he saw the driver roll down all four windows. Out came clouds of smoke.

“I saw the smoke and smelled the odor of burnt marijuana,” Roberts recalled. Once the driver stopped, Roberts walked up to the car and asked the driver, “Have you been smoking?”

The driver was honest: “Yes.”

The driver went to jail on a complaint of driving under the influence of illegal drugs. He later was convicted, joining an increasing number of drivers getting in trouble for “driving high.”

Statistics from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation show that in all of 2013 there were 32 drivers in fatal or injury crashes whose blood tests were positive for marijuana. In the first three months of 2014, there already have been 17 such positive tests.

Blood tests showing marijuana usage typically are not performed unless there is an injury accident. Roberts said he often can tell by his own observation if a person has been smoking pot.

There’s often the smell of burnt marijuana and the telltale red, bloodshot eyes. He also looks for small amounts of green flakes on the tongue from marijuana cigarettes.

“It impairs your motor function and doesn’t allow you to operate a vehicle in a safe manner,” he said.

People can be convicted of driving under the influence of illegal drugs, marijuana, based on the observations of the officer.

Blood tests of drivers for marijuana in Oklahoma are not fair, say drug attorneys and advocates who want marijuana legalized.

A positive blood test for marijuana may not always mean a person is high at the time of the crash, or too impaired to drive, said Oklahoma City drug attorney Chad Moody. For example, a person could smoke marijuana legally in Colorado up to 30 days before a crash in Oklahoma.

The typical high from using marijuana lasts just two to four hours, he said. After that, there could be no physical impairment from smoking marijuana, but marijuana traces can stay in a person’s blood for up to 30 days or longer.

In Oklahoma, any detectable amount of marijuana in a person’s blood is illegal. Moody said he is being requested more frequently by clients who are convicted for using marijuana up to 30 days before their arrest.

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by Robert Medley
Breaking News Reporter
Robert Medley has been a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1989, covering various news beats in the Oklahoma City metro area and in the Norman news bureau. He has been part of the breaking news team since 2008. A 1987 University of Oklahoma...
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