With the legalization of online sports betting and recreational cannabis comes the difficulty of regulating the new vices, particularly how law enforcement officers are able to properly identify drivers under the influence of cannabis.
While the full rollout of widely available cannabis isn’t expected until next year, marijuana became legal for those 21 and older on July 1.
Traditional driving under the influence laws, such as those that apply to alcohol, also apply to cannabis, but it is not yet clear how many officers will need to be trained as drug recognition experts in order to properly identify drivers who are high.
By January, each law enforcement unit in the state must report to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, a recommendation regarding the minimum number of officers that each unit should have accredited as drug recognition experts.
It won’t be until close to the end of next year when each law enforcement unit in the state will be given guidance from POST on the minimum number of drug recognition experts they will need.
Ensuring there are enough drug recognition experts working in law enforcement is essential to minimizing DUIs related to cannabis, particularly considering traditional Breathalyzer tests can’t be used to spot marijuana use.
Further complicating spotting driving while high is that cannabis can come in a variety of forms, including edibles, which cannot be detected by smell.
There are currently only 53 drug recognition experts in law enforcement in Connecticut, 10 of whom work as state police and 42 of whom are municipal police officers.
Det. Kevin Geraci, of the South Windsor Police Department, is the only drug recognition expert in town.
He said that DUIs of any kind typically begin with the same roadside tests used with alcohol, but when drug recognition experts are involved, they conduct a 12-step process that can determine the specific drug of which a motorist may be under the influence.
Experts, Geraci said, are “very vital in these cases being prosecuted,” particularly because their reports can be supported by subsequent toxicology results.
Meanwhile, there is an extensive process in order to become a drug recognition expert.
In the past, officers have been sent to Arizona for classes and evaluations of subjects.
Officers start with 16 hours of classes that serve as a refresher on basic DUI investigations before they are put into drug recognition expert classes.
Those who pass the 16 hours must then pass 56 hours of drug recognition expert training, during which officers are trained to recognize drug use through eye examinations, vital signs, and other methods.
Officers are also trained to identify when someone is under the influence of more than one drug.
“What we see is a lot of folks that are being arrested for drug-related driving have more than one substance in their system,” Geraci said.
As part of their practical training, officers also have to complete 12 evaluations of subjects.
Experts must have their certification renewed every two years, and the re-certification process requires four evaluations of subjects, one of which must be witnessed by a drug recognition expert instructor.
Further complicating the process is that not every officer can be trained as a drug recognition expert.
Geraci, whose primary role in South Windsor is in computer forensics, noted the grueling training officers must go through to be certified as experts.
“It’s not for every police officer,” he said.
There is also a significant cost — roughly $7,000 — for each officer to be trained as a drug recognition expert.
The cost is funded through the state Department of Transportation.
“There is no cost to the agency,” Geraci said.
At this point, one drug recognition expert is sufficient in South Windsor, Geraci said, but time will tell whether more will be needed once legal cannabis is more widely available next year.
He noted that Hartford County has far more experts than in areas such as Bridgeport or New Haven.
“Looking forward, we’ll have to evaluate” where more drug recognition experts are needed, Geraci said.
In addition to officers on the streets, the DOT has launched advertisements making motorists aware that DUI laws apply to driving under the influence of cannabis.
One advertisement ends with an image of a cannabis leaf, plus a steering wheel, equals DUI.
Additionally, Connecticut residents have been able to gamble on sports and casino games from their phones and other devices since Oct. 19.
While the state’s program does include a voluntary self-exclusion process to prevent those from participating if they know they have a gambling problem, Diana Goode, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, has said the protection isn’t sufficient.
She has said that the amount of self-awareness required for someone to opt out is often due to them already losing everything.
This week, Goode said that calls to the council’s help line and online chats has increased by 30% since gambling was expanded, while the council’s funding is down, she said.
The state’s two Native American tribes authorized to take sports bets are required by state law to contribute $500,000 to problem gambling each year, and the state is required to contribute $1 million annually.
As the state Department of Consumer Protection is accepting public comments regarding its most recent draft of regulations, the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling is working on its own recommendations, Goode said.
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