April Focus on Impaired Driving Enforcement and “420”
By – Joe Abrusci
Drug Evaluation & Classification Program – Eastern Region
International Association of Chiefs of Police
Marijuana use and 420 celebrations are becoming more mainstream as additional states legalize marijuana. April 20th, better known as “420” among the marijuana culture is becoming a more commercialized annual day of marijuana celebration. This day has many gatherings and public smoking festivals throughout the country including the celebrated “Cannabis Cup”. This event features many of the top marijuana growers, distributors and paraphernalia manufacturers showcasing their products. There is continued growing attention and coverage of 420 events in the news, radio and social media outlets throughout the country.
As states move to approve medical and recreational use of marijuana, data indicates an increased number of drug impaired drivers, led by marijuana use/impairment and false perceptions that it is ok to drive after smoking it. According to a 2021 study by Boston University, “the percentage of crash deaths involving cannabis more than doubled from 9 percent in 2000 to 21.5 percent in 2018 and the percent of deaths involving cannabis and alcohol also more than doubled from 4.8 percent to 10.3 percent. Cannabis was a risk factor for alcohol co-involvement, even at levels below the legal limit.”
Law Enforcement faces daily challenges to remove impaired drivers from our roadways. They continue to identify impaired drivers through training in the Standardized Field Sobriety tests and further their skills through higher level training. The Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement Program (ARIDE) builds on these skills to give them general knowledge to identify drug impaired drivers at roadside and promotes using Drug Recognition Experts to help them further impaired driving cases and prosecution. Drug Recognition Expert trained officers are skilled to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to alcohol. These officers, also know as DREs, are part of an international program administered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police with support of the National Traffic Safety Administration and the US Department of Transportation. All fifty states participate in the program.
While officers are vigilant to identify and remove impaired drivers daily, additional activities are planned to combat the April celebrations and increased risk of impaired drivers on the roadways. Law enforcement agencies across the country are stepping up DWI patrols and checkpoints, staffing them with DREs to aid in better identifying drug impaired drivers at roadside. These types of details are being run on statewide levels as well as by local agencies. The Nebraska Department of Transportation-Highway Safety Office is funding statewide Drug Impaired Driving Enforcement details April 18-24 with emphasis on April 20th. The Nebraska State Patrol will be conducting checkpoints and saturation patrol details in counties bordering Colorado and Wyoming as well other locations. The Omaha and Lincoln Police Departments have set up saturation patrols and extra shifts for DREs during this time period with an emphasis on an April 20th concert in their venue featuring pro-marijuana artists. The South Dakota Highway Patrol has similar plans for a concert by the same artist on the previous day. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon is running grant funded DUI patrols to put DREs on the road. These are a few examples of the many specialized details in place throughout the country, utilizing DREs, to combat drug impaired driving during the month of April. The DRE program currently has over 8,000 certified Drug Recognition Experts throughout the country and continues to grow. Officers can make their communities safer by preparing for an uptick in drugged driving on and around April 20 and, when appropriate, involving a DRE when drug impairment is suspected.
Editor’s note: Of interest, the IACP Annual DECP report for 2020 can be found here 2020 Annual Report.pdf (theiacp.org).