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Troopers Are Preparing For More Pot Smokers

ALBANY — As lawmakers consider the legalization of marijuana, State Police are already mapping plans to provide training to all troopers in identifying signs of drug impairment as part of traffic law enforcement.

State Police brass are addressing one of the greatest challenges in dealing with what is expected to be more drivers behind the wheel who have smoked pot: the fact there is no Breathalyzer-type device to quickly detect the presence of marijuana during a road stop.

Acting State Police Supt. Kevin Bruen said plans now call for saliva samples to be taken from drivers suspected of being high on cannabis and sending them to the State Police laboratory in Albany for analysis.

“There is a test at the lab that is ready to go,” Bruen said at a legislative budget hearing. “I have spoken with my toxicology people and they feel they can handle the test and the increase, if there is some increase, in the number of tests.”

The lab testing is designed to detect or rule out the presence of THC — the psychoactive ingredient that produces euphoric sensations from using marijuana — though it will not measure the level of THC in the person whose saliva is being tested, Bruen said.

Questioned by Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, Bruen acknowledged that the observations and training of troopers will play a key role in fashioning the charges of driving while impaired by drugs.

O’Mara registered his concerns that the testing protocol could prove “problematic.”

“I think that would be unfair evidence in many cases, for somebody who is not under the influence but may have smoked marijuana 10 days before,” the senator, a veteran lawyer, said.

Bruen explained that in combination with the testing, “the trooper’s observation of impairment is going to be critical” in moving forward with arrests.

While lawmakers are contemplating allowing the possession, use and commercial sale of marijuana, the prohibitions against driving while stoned on weed would remain in effect.

All troopers are now slated to get two full days of instruction in a national program known as Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement (A.R.I.D.E.). The training is aimed at equipping officers with skills to recognize signs of impairment related to drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two, to reduce highway dangers as well as crashes.

Bruen said the approach troopers take to situations involving drugged drivers mirrors what they do when they encounter those under the influence of alcohol.

In an interview with CNHI, Thomas Mungeer, president of the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association, said the A.R.I.D.E. training is taking place at the various troop headquarters that dot the state.

“It’s not like we’re going to have to reinvent the wheel,” said Mungeer, whose union represents the troopers the public encounters on the roadsides. “It’s what we do anyway.”

If lawmakers decide to end New York’s marijuana prohibition, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the legislation, New York troopers will still be barred from using cannabis, Bruen said in response to O’Mara’s queries.

Recreational marijuana remains illegal under federal law, though with Democrats now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, that could change this year.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-OR, and Corey Booker signaled two weeks ago they plan to advance “comprehensive cannabis reform legislation” in the current session.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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