Although the recreational use of marijuana is increasingly becoming legal across the US, you can still be arrested for driving under the influence.  And while there is currently no breath-test like there is for alcohol, law enforcement organizations are keeping highly trained to detect usage and want you to stay safe on the roads.

We get the details on marijuana and DUI from California Highway Patrol, Sergeant Oscar Chavez, in this iDriveSoCal Podcast.


Recording date – April 11, 2018 in Santa Fe Springs, CA

Oscar Chavez: If you’re going to be taking part in using cannabis, do it responsibly. Don’t drive. With alcohol, there’s a predictable level of how quickly it’s going to rise on somebody. With cannabis, we have to take into consideration the user. Are they a long time user, short time user. We have to take into consideration on how they ingest it.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, southern California. I’m Tom Smith and today I am in Santa Fe Springs, California and I’m joined by Sergeant Oscar Chavez of the California highway patrol’s impaired driving section. Sergeant, thank you so much for joining me.

Oscar Chavez: Sure. Absolutely.

Tom Smith: The topic today is marijuana as it pertains to DUIs, now that it’s legal, things have changed or at least it would seem they’ve changed, maybe they haven’t, but that’s what we’re going to talk about. When did marijuana officially become legal here in California?

Oscar Chavez: As of this year, beginning in 2018 of this year, it became legal to purchase as well as to sell cannabis to the general public.

Tom Smith: As of January 1st of this year?

Oscar Chavez: That’s correct. Yes.

Tom Smith: So there was the medicinal use before the complete legalization, so are all those, and I’m not sure if you know the answer to this question, but are all those shops that were medicinal, now are they just automatically able to sell to anybody?

Oscar Chavez: Not exactly. Those medicinal shops will still be open. They still have to abide by the old or the current laws.

Tom Smith: Then as far as the shops are concerned, they have basically two different sets of guidelines that they need to and probably some kind of permission for medicinal as well as the recreational.

Oscar Chavez: Yes. That’s correct.

Tom Smith: Then how was the California highway patrol directed to handle marijuana related issues leading up to the legalization? To be specific, before January 1st, 2018.

Oscar Chavez: Well, all through 2017, the California highway patrol took a strong view into training. Training our officers to making sure that we’re able to identify someone under the influence of cannabis. All our officers, when it comes to CHP, officers are all trained to be SFSD trained to recognize. They all get 52 hours of training.

Tom Smith: SFSE?

Oscar Chavez: Yes. I’m sorry. That’s standardized field sobriety test training.

Tom Smith: Oh okay. Standardized field sobriety test training. Got it.

Oscar Chavez: The department actively make sure that all our officers by the end of 2017 were trained in what’s called aride, or advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement.

Tom Smith: Okay. Arad?

Oscar Chavez: Aride.

Tom Smith: Aride?

Oscar Chavez: Ride. Yes. So it’s advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement, and what that course is a two day course, 16 hour course, which we train our officers on recognizing not only signs, not only re emphasize the signs of impairment of alcohol, but to also emphasize the signs of impairment of drugs including cannabis.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Oscar Chavez: Just overall, all we’re looking for out there, is to make sure that, especially if we pull someone that’s under impaired, we’re looking for strictly impairment.

Tom Smith: Doesn’t matter what it is.

Oscar Chavez: Doesn’t matter. It could be pills, it could be …

Tom Smith: Sleep deprivation?

Oscar Chavez: Also, they might be, if they’re too tired to drive, that’s also dangerous as well, but specifically to drugs themselves, we’re looking to make sure. There’s other drugs out there as well like you have Xanax or you might have something like a pain killer like Vicodin.

Tom Smith: Not just cannabis, not just illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs that somebody might be prescribed or abusing?

Oscar Chavez: We bring experts throughout the state. Medical professionals to kind of teach about the scienceolgy of drug use and we also have included in that part of the training.

Tom Smith: Then before January 1 of this year and into now, what’s changed in marijuana related traffic incidents or even other if there’s some significant that’s outside of traffic as it pertains to now that marijuana’s legal.

Oscar Chavez: It’s a little too soon to kind of pull stats out. It’s only been three months since, three or four months since January 1st. What’s really changed in our enforcement, i wouldn’t say not much. Our biggest push is to always make sure that people are safe out there, and whenever they consume it, they do it responsibly. If you’re going to be taking part in using cannabis, again, do it responsibly. Don’t drive. There’s a lot of ways to get from point A to point B. We have ride sharing like Uber and Lyft.

Tom Smith: Have you guys seen a change in offenses, or increase or decrease really?

Oscar Chavez: Specifically to anything specific. It’s too soon.

Tom Smith: With alcohol, there’s the you get pulled over. You do a field sobriety test. You have the scientific data of the breathalyzer.

Oscar Chavez: Yes.

Tom Smith: There’s a measurement. It’s .08. You can’t be over .08. Maybe you can get a DUI under .08 with alcohol, I know that’s subjective to the situation.

Oscar Chavez: That’s correct.

Tom Smith: But as it pertains to marijuana, other than the field sobriety test, is there any scientific data such as a breathalyzer or a blood test that is done?

Oscar Chavez: Currently, the CHP is looking into technologies when it comes to, for example, the mouth swab in order to detect the presence of cannabis in your system or recent use. Whenit comes to chemical tests, yes there’s no breath tests that you could blow into a machine and get your .08 level. The only way right now that we could use is use a conformity test, which would be the blood test to test the presence of cannabis in someone’s system at this point.

Tom Smith: You can consume cannabis in so many different ways. It’s not just smoking it anymore. They’re eating it and there’s some kind of wax. There’s even topicals, right? Here rub it on for a knee or something.

Oscar Chavez: Yeah.

Tom Smith: It just seems like it opens up so many strange questions and how, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a problem. I’m asking questions of a problem that doesn’t really exist, it sounds like.

Oscar Chavez: With alcohol, there’s a predictable level of how quickly it’s going to rise on somebody. Once they’ve peaked at their level on how quickly it dissipates until they get to zero. With cannabis, it’s really difficult. It’s different than any other, like alcohol for example. With cannabis, we have to take into consideration the user. Are they a long time user, short time user. We have to take into consideration on how they ingest it. Is it edible? Are they using a sativa strain? Are they using an Indica strain? Sativa’s going to have some effects on a user, versus a Indica strain, or is it a hybrid strain. A combination of both.

Oscar Chavez: What’s the THC levels of the cannabis. Are we talking about levels at 10% THC for the green leafy substance, or are we talking about a 30% THC on some of the more potent cannabis leafy substance, or are we talking about some of the, like you mentioned, the wax, are we talking about the 80, 90% THC levels.

Tom Smith: 80, 90%.

Oscar Chavez: When it comes to whatever strain they’re using, if they get behind the wheel, we’re just going to check the signs and symptoms of intoxication at that point. How is it affecting reaction time? Because all those tests we do roadside are reliable when dealing with someone under the influence, just as reliable the DRE uses their tests as well. Not only do they use some of the roadside tests that the officer used on the field, the DRE goes into more in depth tests like pulses at three different intervals. Blood pressure. Pupil size in three different lighting conditions. In regular room like here, as well as near total darkness, and direct light as well.

Tom Smith: DRE is?

Oscar Chavez: It’s a drug recognition evaluator.

Tom Smith: Drug recognition evaluator, and that is a set of guidelines that officers are instructed to go by to determine whether or not someone is impaired?

Oscar Chavez: The DRE’s going to follow what’s called the standardized 12 step process, which starts with the breath test and in that 12 step process, involves checking for alcohol, pulses at three different intervals.

Tom Smith: Checking pulse?

Oscar Chavez: the pulse, yes.

Tom Smith: So an officer would check my pulse on the side of …

Oscar Chavez: No, no.

Tom Smith: This is after an arrest?

Oscar Chavez: Yes, yes. Once it gets to a DRE that’s post arrest.

Tom Smith: Oh DRE is, okay. Can a person receive a marijuana related DUI operating a bicycle, skateboard, roller blades or even one of these little electric scooters that can be ridden in bike lanes now?

Oscar Chavez: Currently, there’s no specific statute for anything like that. For example, there is a specific statute or law for DUI on a bicycle.

Tom Smith: How much marijuana can I have on my person? How much marijuana can I buy? What is legal?

Oscar Chavez: 28.5 grams. Yeah. 28.5 grams of the green leafy substance.

Tom Smith: Of the green leafy substance. What does that look like? A bag? A sandwich bag?

Oscar Chavez: About the size. Yeah.

Tom Smith: Okay. A sandwich bag.

Oscar Chavez: Yeah.

Tom Smith: It’s filled up?

Oscar Chavez: Filled up. I want to say filled up. Yeah.

Tom Smith: But you have to be 21 years old right?

Oscar Chavez: That’s correct. 21 years or older.

Tom Smith: If I have more than that, am I in misdemeanor land or felony land?

Oscar Chavez: At this point you’re just an infraction.

Tom Smith: Infraction. What does that mean?

Oscar Chavez: It would be a fine at this point.

Tom Smith: Okay. So it’s not even a misdemeanor? It’s just a citation of some sort ?

Oscar Chavez: That’s correct. That’s correct. Yes.

Tom Smith: Anything I missed we should touch base on?

Oscar Chavez: like I said earlier, just do it safely. Don’t get behind the wheel.

Tom Smith: All right well very good. Sergeant Oscar Chavez of the California highway patrol impaired driving section. Thank you so much for joining me. Very much appreciate your participation. Thanks for keeping us safe on the roads. For iDriveSoCal, I’m Tom Smith. Thanks for listening.