How the Michigan State Police Arrest Those Driving "High"

The State of Michigan began accepting license applications for adult-use marijuana establishments last Friday. However, local law enforcement started tackling issues ranging from complaints about marijuana’s smell to preparing for an “increase” in high driving far before then. 

While some police departments are taking a “hands-off” approach (not making arrests for marijuana consumption related charges), others are expecting the courts to get involved as these issues gradually increase.

Marijuana During Traffic Stops 

Michigan State Police troopers are saying that marijuana legalization is making their jobs difficult, especially during traffic stops when officers can smell it. These troopers say many prosecutors have not made it clear on how law enforcement should handle each situation.

“We come across a lot of kids that are under 21 that have possession of it and obviously, that’s in violation so we seize it and go through the process that way,”  Michigan State Police Sgt. Andrew Jeffrey said to WWMT-3. “But when we come across people that are 21 and older and actually have it legally, that’s where it’s kind of hard to deal with it in that aspect.” 

However, Lt. Michael Shaw of the Michigan State Police told the Detroit Free Press that marijuana legalization “isn’t a big deal” regarding enforcement. 

“The fallacy that there’s going to be all this marijuana out there is just that, a fallacy. It’s already always been out there.” 

Even now that marijuana is legalized, police officers still rely on “junk science,” such as green tongue, to arrest and convict drugged drivers. Attorney Chris Urban states that this myth in particular is “scientifically untrue.” 

In May 2019, WDIV-Channel 4 posted an article about the significant increase of drugged driving arrests made by officers in Washtenaw County, including marijuana. The article states that this increase could be attributed to the extensive training provided to officers. One of these programs, the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE), is credited for improved detection of drugged drivers.

However, ARIDE has a number of problems with its curriculum. 

  • Tests are sometimes improperly administered. Field sobriety tests, breath and blood tests should be performed in substantial compliance with how they are taught. Failure to do so renders the tests meaningless.
  • Officers enter false information into police reports to make their case look stronger. Perhaps the person just isn’t driving impaired, but the officer does not want to be proven wrong.
  • The science behind ARIDE tests is not proven. Therefore, some “clues” provided by these tests hold zero value towards guilt or innocence.

How Marijuana Differs from Alcohol While Driving

Additionally, Barton Morris contributed to Michigan’s Impaired Driving Safety Commission’s April 2019 report that THC levels do not correlate to impaired driving. As Michigan’s only ACS Forensic Lawyer-Scientist and the only criminal defense lawyer consulted for this report, said that: 

“Levels of THC in the blood are not an accurate measure of the level of intoxication, as is the case with blood alcohol levels.”

THC stays in one’s body far longer than alcohol, even after the peak high has occurred. This is because of THC’s absorption and distribution process, along with behavioral and cognitive effects, differs greatly than alcohol’s effect on the body. 

Studies have also suggested that people impaired by marijuana drive more slowly, leave greater space between cars and take fewer risks behind the wheel. In general, “stoned” drivers possess greater reaction time and driving abilities and far less less vehicle crashes than those driving under the influence of alcohol.

Learn more about the Michigan’s Impaired Driving Safety Commission’s April 2019 report on THC impairment >>

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How to Fight My Marijuana Impaired Driving Charge

Too few attorneys have taken the time to learn this new area of OWI law. Our team takes the time to attend numerous ARIDE seminars to learn just what the police are being taught. Most importantly, we have fought these cases and won

While we definitely encourage safe driving and discourage smoking marijuana while driving, we do realize that the lack of understanding surrounding marijuana’s effect on driving can lead to wrongful arrests. Don’t trust your OWI charge, whether drugs or drunk driving, to someone who simply dabbles in this area of law.

As you can see, the police actively train and learn new techniques everyday. You should expect that your lawyer is learning and training just as hard.