Police prepare for recreational marijuana legalization

Macon County

DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — Police officers are preparing for recreational marijuana to become legal in Illinois on January 1, 2020.

In Decatur, a group of officers have been trained to recognize signs of someone driving under the influence of marijuana.

“Nothing’s changed,” Chief Jim Getz said of the city’s DUI enforcement. “We just expect to see a little more of the cannabis now that it’s legal in certain situations, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to change anything that we do.”

The department plans to draw blood from drivers believed to be high on the roads. A handful of officers have been trained already to recognize the signs of someone driving under the influence of marijuana.

“So, what they’ll do is they’ll make the traffic stop and they’ll look for those indicators and they’ll make the appropriate arrest if that’s necessary. For us, we’ll ask for a blood draw to determine at a later date what that nanogram amount may be while they were driving.”

Getz said some of the signs of driving high include eye movements, language and odor. He said said drivers will need to give permission to have their blood drawn, unless they were involved in a serious crash. The test will focus on THC components, since THC leaves the system much quicker. Not every department will be using this method to determine if drivers are high.

“Each department, they have to go with what they think is best,” Getz said. “We have several officers who I would consider experts in the field. And the guidance that they’re giving me is that the blood draw is the most accurate testing at this point.”

WCIA asked Getz how he’d respond to critics who say blood draws are invasive. Getz reiterated nothing has changed in the department’s stance toward driving under the influence in the last two decades.

“There’s always been that implied consent,” Getz said. “When you sign for a drivers license, you are consenting to give blood or urine as a condition of having a drivers license.”

Under state law, if drivers refuse a blood draw, their licenses will be automatically suspended for one year.

“Now that cannabis is legal, in certain circumstances, people think it’s kind of a free-for-all, it’s legal under all circumstances and that’s just not the case,” Getz said. “And while the state says in certain circumstances, it’s legal, the state has never said it’s legal to drive under the influence of cannabis.”

In addition to blood draws, the Decatur Police Department will use a $500,000 donation from the Howard Buffett foundation to hire a new officer who will focus mainly on catching drivers who are high.

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