The San Diego Police Foundation donated two mouth-swab devices to the local police for testing drug-impaired drivers last week. These testing machines have already been used by the police in other places with legalized recreational marijuana, such as Arizona, Nevada, Los Angeles, and New York.
After the legalization of recreational marijuana in California last November, local police have been facing the problem of an increasing number of marijuana-impaired drivers.
According to the California Office of Highway Safety, in 2014, 38 percent of fatal vehicle crashes involved drivers who appeared to be drug-positive. In contrast, the rate of drug-impaired drivers killed in auto accidents in 2013 was 32%.
In order to prevent further crashes, San Diego drug officers appealed to the experience of Denver police to see how they managed to deal with stoned drivers after Colorado had legalized marijuana for adult use.
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has told reporters that they expected to see an increase in the number of stoned drivers in connection with marijuana legalization in the state. That is why they took steps to get such drivers off the roads.
Police have already received two Dräger DrugTest 5000 machines that were tested during the St. Patrick's Day celebration in San Diego. These devices have the size of a mini bookshelf stereo system and can test drivers for the presence of such substances as marijuana, opiates, amphetamine, cocaine, and others.
The Dräger 5000 only determines the fact of drug impairment, while the level of the substance can be discovered only after passing a blood test. The device was premiered in 2009 and has been successfully used by the police in a dozen of American states and such countries as Germany, Australia, and Belgium.
Before asking a driver to take a mouth-swab test, police try to visually recognize drug impairment. If they notice red eyes, blank stares, unsafe driving or the smell of marijuana in the vehicle, they request the suspicious driver to take the Dräger 5000 test.
To take the test, the driver has to run a mouth swab around the inside of the mouth for up to four minutes. Then the swab is placed into a testing solution of the device, and the result is printed in less than ten minutes. The driver has the right to refuse to take this drug test, but then the police can force the person to pass a blood test.
The device can detect marijuana impairment only if the person has the active THC compound that causes a psychoactive effect. This cannabinoid stays active only for a few hours until the high leaves. However, you have nothing to worry about if you legally smoked weed two days ago, as the machine does not see inactive cannabinoids that stay in your system for weeks, police assures.
The results of the Dräger 5000 test can be used as evidence in court, but they will not notably impact the way your drug driving case is prosecuted.
The main challenge in this matter is that while California law defines a legal threshold for the amount of alcohol in a driver's system, there is no threshold measure for drug impairment.