Legal Marijuana putting drug recognition experts to the test to keep roads safe

Legal Marijuana putting drug recognition experts to the test to keep roads safe

Legal marijuana is making it harder for local law enforcement officers to keep Rhode Island's roads safe.

There's been a dangerous uptick of traffic related deaths this year.

In September there were 288 total DUI cases, 71 consented to a chemical test, 206 refused.

Sergeant Anthony McHugh with the Cranston Police Department says there are only 62 drug recognition experts trained to recognize when someone is under the influence, and present it to a judge in court.

“What I liked about it a lot was you take that person immediately off the road. They’re done for the night, they can’t hurt anyone.”

In 2014, McHugh went through an intensive two-week training to be able to recognize the signs of drug use.

"It kind of expands your skills and expertise to identify people that are driving under the influence of almost everything, not just alcohol,” McHugh said.

While every officer in the state has DUI training, McHugh says the DRE portion is becoming more important to prosecute the crime.

“It requires a lot of expertise training, these arrests are not easy and proving them in court is even harder,” McHugh said.

When NBC 10 first covered drug recognition experts in 2022, eight departments didn’t have any DREs.

State Police and Cranston each have seven.

A few departments like East Providence, Hopkinton, and Richmond only have one.

Scituate, New Shoreham, East Greenwich, Foster, and Glocester don't have any.

Warren doesn’t have any either but they plan to send an officer to the next training.

If someone is pulled over and showing signs of impairment McHugh says he’ll start the field sobriety test.

If someone fails the horizontal gaze test or blows under 0.08 or at zero on a breathalyzer test, that’s when he knows to pivot to the 12-step drug influence evaluation.

“We actually do dark room examinations, we need to make sure that when we administer the divided attention test we have a flat level surface, adequate lighting, we take eye measurements, we actually take their pulse, their blood pressure, their temperature,” McHugh said.

McHugh says the process typically takes about 50 minutes and ends with a blood test.

He says they have to prove the drug was on board and that there was unsafe operation of a motor vehicle, which can make it difficult for the report to hold up in court.

“My standard DUI report is usually around two and a half to three pages and again I’m noting all of my observations and all the clues I observe on the field sobriety test, but my DRE reports are usually between six and seven pages long,” McHugh said.

McHugh says DRE officers can help other departments outside of their own.

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Region: Rhode Island

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