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Digging Deeper: Number of cannabis DUI in single digits, ISP considers new test

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ILLINOIS (WREX) -- Before marijuana was legal in the state of Illinois, public service announcements ran on billboards and commercials about the dangers of driving high. As early as last week, an electronic billboard ran over U.S. 20 west of Rockford telling high drivers to hand over their keys.

So far, it seems they have been.

Arrests and crashes related to marijuana are in the single digits in the Stateline.

Illinois State Police Trooper Mark Vaughn is no stranger to arresting people for it, he's been doing it for years.

"Typically someone who is impaired has a hard time doing two things at once," he pointed out while we rode along on a snowy day on U.S. 20 in ISP District 16.

Trooper Mark Vaughn

"It's just driving impaired," said Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders. "You shouldn't drive impaired."

From January 1 until Jan 22, arrests for driving high were low. One person in Rockford was arrested, one in Lee County and zero in Boone county.

We could not get numbers from Winnebago County. Ogle County never responded to our requests.

In Stephenson County, one person was arrested for driving high, three others were arrested for illegal possession.

"You cannot possess cannabis in a motor vehicle, unless it is in a sealed, odorless, childproof container like you get from the dispensary," Sheriff Snyders added.

He says those numbers may seem low, but they are an increase from zero in the same time frame in 2019.

"We found that on January first there were individuals that just assumed that it is legal and 'we can just use it whenever we want," he said.

At the state level, ISP says it has no way to determine the specific drug type when reporting DUI numbers. So, state police gave 13 WREX numbers for citations and crashes involving all intoxicating compounds or drugs, other than alcohol.

Statewide, from January 1 to January 22, six crashes were reported and troopers gave out 36 citations. The most crashes and citations were in the Chicago District, ten citations and three crashes, followed by the tollway district (15) with seven citations and one crash.

In our area, no crashes or citations happened in District 16 or District 1.

Right now, roadside DUI checks are roughly the same for marijuana as they are for alcohol. State police do not have a tool like a marijuana breathalyzer to scientifically test for pot, and they have no plans to use one.

ISP is working to use a tool to test for saliva.

At this time the ISP does not have a plan to use THC/Marijuana Breathalyzers.  Although the option of a pilot program related to oral fluid is being considered, there is not an exact timeline on when any such program will be established or the duration. In turn, no determination has been made regarding the instruments and/or equipment that will be used in any aforementioned programs," ISP said in a statement.

"Certainly any tool that we can use to make good, sound decisions on the side of the road before making a decision for an arrest, we're always interested in those," Capt. Carl Heintz, District 16.

In the meantime, Capt. Heintz says they've trained all troopers in our area on what they call advanced roadside impaired driving.

"We use those tools when we suspect there's something other than alcohol involved," Capt. Heintz said.

They're also working to get a drug recognition expert to work at District 16, to better detect drugs on the side of the road.

"So we can have a person come in to do further testing, both roadside and after the fact," Capt. Heintz said.

All to keep marijuana off of area roadways, keep people from driving high, and ultimately keep drivers safe.

James Stratton

James Stratton is the Evening Anchor at 13 WREX and reports for 13 Investigates He joined the team in August, 2018 after working at KWQC TV-6 in Davenport Iowa. His work in Illinois and Iowa has been awarded in both states, along with Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards at 13 WREX.

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