Police: Driving while high on marijuana is a 'growing problem'

The Golden Gate division of the CHP is on now on the lookout for signs of marijuana impairment.

Officer Vu Williams in San Francisco says it’s now a growing problem.

"We may smell alcohol or marijuana coming from the car. We may see their speech is somewhat impaired or it may be a bit slower and drivers may not be able to respond to our questions," said Williams. “We are looking for some of those things.”

Williams, who specializes in marijuana detection and enforcement, also uses the standard field sobriety test to determine which drivers are impaired behind the wheel.

The field sobriety test is similar for both alcohol and marijuana. Moving forward Williams says all CHP officers will now undergo enhanced road side training to spot drivers who are under the influence.

Similar to the road side test, drivers must prove they can multi task. “Can they do these multiple things at one time, can they stand on one foot, look at (their) foot and also count out loud?" said Williams.

In fact, buzzed driving has the CHP’s full attention after a series of deadly crashes. On Christmas Eve 2017, CHP officer Andrew Camilleri was killed when he was rear ended by a car driving more than 100 mph on I-880. The driver later admitted to using marijuana.

And in Fremont this week, a marijuana DUI is suspected in a five car crash on I-880 that killed three people, including two kids.

The Golden Gate CHP provided statistics on marijuana DUI as they prepared for its legalization in 2017. According to the numbers, there were 197 DUI arrests for the nine Bay Area counties in 2017. For 2018, from January and almost half of April, there are already 87 arrests for marijuana DUI.

While officers rely on road side field sobriety tests, Oakland-based Hound Labs has developed a hand-held marijuana breathalyzer that measures the amount of THC in someone’s breath. They provided KTVU with video of closed road driving test at the Alameda Naval Air Station. They got drivers high and had them navigate through common road hazards.

“Our high speed track test on the runway was intended to try to show the type of impairment that happens when people are stoned behind the wheel,” said Mike Lynn, MD. the CEO of Hound.

Lynn takes impaired driving personal. As an ER doctor and reserve deputy, he says all too often he’s seen the deadly effects of these types of crashes. 

Drivers on the road course drove well while sober but under the influence of marijuana they were unable to navigate the course.

One of the most chilling things, according to Lynn, is that “all of the drivers hit a bicycle that was in the construction zone.”

Hound labs has been testing the breathalyzer for four years and they are in the final phase. They have a number of companies interested in the product but wouldn’t mention which law enforcement agencies may be interested.

Meanwhile, Williams with San Francisco CHP says they don’t use hand held devices but rather rely on the standard road side testing for drivers when they focus on a vehicle stop.