Driving Under the Influence (DUI, and it’s close relation Driving While Impaired, DWI) checkpoints have been a main stay of police enforcement for the last couple of decades and is singularly responsible for a reduction in traffic accidents and deaths according to the US Surgeon General. It resulted in 1.3 million arrests last year. Up until recently, all of the focus has been related to alcohol since that’s easy to check. There’s been no reasonably priced, reliable way to test for DUI and DWI with respect to marijuana. However, that now all appears about to change.
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) rolled out a monitor called the Drager 5000 earlier this year, which checks saliva and allows for quick roadside testing. The Los Angeles PD has been using it for years and Denver, Colorado also recently rolled out a pilot program. It checks for marijuana and prescription drugs because they are equally as dangerous as alcohol for people who get behind the wheel while the drugs are in their system. The test is used in conjunction with the officers’ other normal techniques, such as onsite evaluation and even blood tests, when warranted. The SDPD claims the Drager 5000 tests only for what’s actively present in the body at the time, and does not present false positives from prior use.
For now, the tests are voluntary, allowing drivers the opportunity to prove their sobriety. Moreover, even if the test proves positive, there’s currently no ‘legal limit’ set for drugs as to what constitutes impairment; it’s a subjective decision made by the officer on-scene. The final impediment is cost. At $6,000 per machine, it will probably be a budget-buster for most PDs to use force-wide. However, it’s anticipated that costs will come down as more PDs around the country jump on board.
Marijuana: Is Technology Part of the Problem?
Technology is usually associated with positive developments, changing the world. I love my iPhone 7+. However, just as with any other tool, it can be used for purposes both good and bad. The ever-advancing IT trend in the growth of marijuana is unfortunately leading to greater proliferation and contributing to its widespread use throughout the US.
Greeley, Colorado is home to Leaf, the manufacturer of $3,000, do-it-yourself, wi-fi enabled marijuana growth machines that owners can use to monitor and tend their plants remotely. They’ve sold over 1,000. Another company has developed a rapid-fire cartridge changing device making various types of THC infused oils available for vaping with the ease of the push of a button.
30 million recreational users spent an average of $1,500 each last year. The industry is expected to grow to over $8 billion by the end of this year and $16 billion by 2020. Marijuana use grew from 6.34% of the US population in 2004 to 7.73% in 2014. Those numbers are only going to continue to grow, as does the drug’s potency.
What’s lost in all this, is the higher rates of lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis and the under-reported impact on memory, not to mention the higher rate of accidents and emergency room visits as a result of impairment. It’s also leading to increased underage use just as we’re making progress on that front against alcohol (down from 28.72% in 2004 to 23.28% in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use). The evidence is undeniable that underage use has severe long-term consequences.
So, as we go about our days and mindlessly make use of the ever-present technology all around us, perhaps sometimes we need to take a step back and remind ourselves, “just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should”.
The Wave of Fake Weed
Take a bit of tobacco, or even incense, spray it with a liberal mix of chemicals and sell it in shiny packages on the street, or even in bodegas, head shops and gas stations. It’s that easy. Fake Weed. It promises similar effects as the real thing but many find it attractive because it can be technically legal and won’t show up in the results of tests for marijuana. Moreover, each producer uses a different mix and keeps changing the mix to stay one-step ahead of the law, which makes one formulation illegal while another similar one (still not illegal) pops up in its place. It’s like a crazy game of Whack-a-Mole. This makes the drug popular among teenagers who get easy access, and amongst inmates and people in jobs where a random pee test can permanently alter their lives. A 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that almost 10% of high school students had tried fake weed at some point in their young lives.
It’s sold on the street under the names K2 and Spice, among many others (up to 22 different types were recently catalogued by the State of Florida), and can produce dangerous side-effects because ‘street chemists’ don’t exactly adhere to strict scientific standards. It can lead to chest pain, hallucinations, aggression, anxiety, seizures, permanent cardio-vascular damage, liver damage, stroke, aggression, anxiety attacks, brain damage and even immediate death from overdose, as products now even use such deadly drugs as fentanyl and carfentanil in their “mix”. People are taking chances with their lives, with each and every puff.