This year, drivers on California’s highways will be greeted with a new message on police billboards: Drive High, Get A DUI.

While many people are celebrating the historic end to marijuana prohibition in California, highway patrol and other law enforcement agencies are adapting to a changing environment and new marijuana laws.

The legalization of recreational marijuana poses new challenges for law enforcement and highway patrol officers. Testing if a driver is high on marijuana is more complicated than testing for alcohol. However, this doesn’t mean police officers are incapable of testing and arresting drivers who are high on marijuana.

In fact, police officers from Los Angeles to Sacramento have received additional training and equipment to prepare for the new year. California Highway Patrol especially will be wary of drugged drivers with the onset of legalized marijuana.

Here’s an overview of what you should know about driving high, and how highway patrol officers are searching for stoned drivers.

cars on a freeway - Doctor's orders

Police are expecting an uptick in “drugged driving” cases this year

2018 will be a year when the marijuana market explodes in growth. The introduction of recreational marijuana laws effectively opens the floodgates to the masses. No doctor’s recommendation, no problem. Police know this and will be prepared for new cannabis users on the road.

Police departments have been anticipating legalization for some time, and are aware that the number of people who smoke and drive is going to spike in 2018.

According to statistics, Colorado experienced a 32% increase in marijuana-related driving fatalities after legalization in 2014.

To prepare for a similar increase in marijuana-related driving incidents, Governor Jerry Brown of California approved the cotton-swab test that isolates THC and can detect intoxication in drivers. The Governor also passed a budget that grants millions of dollars in funding to highway patrol officers for drug-detection training.

Many police departments in California have already sent teams of officers to Colorado to better prepare for the upcoming changes. These officers have received advanced training in spotting and arresting drivers who are under the influence of drugs, especially marijuana.

How police can test for marijuana DUI

Police Departments in San Diego, Los Angeles, and several other large cities started using new drug-testing devices as early as March last year. These mouth-swab devices, called Drager DrugTest 5000 machines, have already been deployed at DUI checkpoints in downtown areas of San Diego and Los Angeles.

Drager 5000 cotton-swab machines are capable of testing a person’s saliva for seven different drugs. This includes marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, amphetamine, methadone, and benzodiazepines.

With the new mouth-swab device, police can test drivers who have the active compound of THC in their system by using their saliva. THC will remain active for several hours, but there’s still debate on whether police can specifically pinpoint the time at which the driver was high. Some medicinal heavy-users have cautioned that THC can even remain in their system up to 72 hours after smoking.

However, police only need to prove that the person was driving impaired to charge them with a fine or worse. Police have been trained to recognize whether a person may be under the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Possible signs of impaired driving include: unsafe or erratic driving, red eyes, blank stares, marijuana odor, and slow reaction times. If there is sufficient suspicion for you to be high, a police officer can then request you to take the Drager 5000 cotton-swab test.

The test takes about 8 minutes to administer and is highly effective. Refusing to take the test can prompt the officer to then force you to take a blood test at the police department.

In addition to new equipment, police are using standard sobriety tests to check for impaired and drugged driving. These tests include standing on one foot, walking in a line, following basic commands, etc.


Guidelines for driving safe

The best trick for avoiding a DUI is to simply not smoke and drive. We all know that you’re a great driver, we’ve heard it a million times. But all it takes is an officer’s suspicion that you are driving high to be pulled over.

And if you do test positive for THC, you will receive a DUI.

In addition to not driving high, it is also important to know that there is an open-container law for marijuana. Got any bud sitting around in your car? It needs to be sealed in a container. That unfinished joint in your center console may be enough to bust you.

Keep your marijuana products sealed and secure at all times. Don’t give law enforcement any reason to suspect that you are breaking the law.

Stay up-to-date on marijuana enforcement and regulations as they are subject to change as police officers adapt to a new, post-prohibition California.

Don’t smoke and drive. There are Uber and Lyft. And your (sober) friends. Be smart and safe in 2018!

What about you? Do you think that California’s DUI laws will affect marijuana users more in 2018?