Can Prop. 64 Pass a Sobriety Test?

Commentary by R.E. Graswich

The California ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis is favorably polling above 60 percent. But if Prop. 64 stumbles between Labor Day and Nov. 8, a familiar group is ready to take the credit: the police.

Unlike marijuana regulations that passed the State Legislature and won Gov. Brown's signature last year, Prop. 64 has failed to secure a consensus of support from law enforcement.

Opposition from influential organizations such as the state's police chiefs and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen is bad news for the initiative, which follows previous unsuccessful efforts to pass adult-use cannabis initiatives.

Cops have several problems with Prop. 64, but the big hurdle is the proposal's failure to establish an enforcement standard for driving under the influence of cannabis.

While motorists can be convicted of drunk driving with blood-alcohol measures of 0.08 or above (and can be cited for "wet reckless" impairment for less), Prop. 64 leaves the question open.

The November ballot measure seeks to address the impaired driving question by giving the CHP $15 million to create "protocols and best practices" to detect and convict drivers impaired by cannabis. But the early going would be a free-for-all, law enforcement officials believe.

Other states have struggled with the same question. Research in early-adopter states such as Colorado and Washington indicate there are no simple answers. The science of impairment detection and measurement differs substantially between alcohol and cannabis.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who opposes Prop. 64, has based her opposition in large part on the subjective nature of cannabis impairment enforcement. Feinstein and other foes of Prop. 64 say states with recreational approval have seen significant increases in marijuana-related crashes.

One problem goes beyond removing impaired drivers from the road. Thanks to the lack of objective testing available to police, clean drivers have been erroneously suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana.

Police use observational experience, roadside tests and handheld blood-alcohol measurement equipment to determine whether a driver is probably impaired by alcohol. No such time-tested field tools are available for cannabis.

Legislators and their staffs agree last year's cannabis regulations would not have survived without broad support from law enforcement. California voters will have to be more tolerant and less reliant on the viewpoints of police if they want to approve Prop. 64 in November


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