Fresno law enforcement: We’ll be looking for drivers who are drunk or high on weed

Fresno County law enforcement officials this week warned marijuana users as well as alcohol drinkers that police would be looking for them should they decide to get behind the wheel while impaired this holiday season.

While it has become normal for officials to issue warnings about drunk driving in advance of the holidays, the warning to pot smokers by officials at a news conference held by District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp took on additional significance in the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for Californians.

Just as state legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown and other officials are working out the implementation of Proposition 64, law enforcement is wrestling with the practicalities of arresting and prosecuting those driving under the influence of weed.

That is because there is no readily available tool officers on the street can use to determine whether a marijuana user is impaired. Portable blood-alcohol devices, which quickly indicate if a driver is over the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit, have been a DUI enforcement mainstay for years. But there is no comparable device for marijuana.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who attended the conference, along with Clovis Chief Matt Basgall, indicated that his department might broaden the use of specially trained drug recognition officers to determine if a driver is high on marijuana. That is how Colorado, a state that legalized recreational marijuana use several years ago, enforces its DUI laws.

Said Smittcamp: “If we can prove it, we will prosecute in the same (way as the office prosecutes) driving under the influence of alcohol.”

Dyer indicated that if an officer could smell the pungent weed wafting from the window of a car, the driver would likely be arrested just as if the officer smelled alcohol. And if the officer was satisfied that the driver exhibited the “objective symptoms” of being under the influence, “we’re going to arrest them and book them.”

Officials at the news conference, also attended by California Highway Patrol officers and assistant district attorneys, stressed that anyone who injures or kills another person while impaired would be treated as someone who committed a violent crime and could be charged with manslaughter.