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May 8, 2013 6:02 PM by Eric Ross

Police groups question marijuana test

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Leading Illinois law enforcement organizations stepped up their opposition Wednesday to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, focusing on motorist safeguards they say are too lax to prevent traffic deaths.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association oppose House-approved legislation headed for Senate committee consideration, saying the bill incorrectly states that federally approved field-sobriety tests are adequate to check for driving under the influence of cannabis. They aren't sufficient and judges will toss out DUI cases as a result, said Greg Sullivan, executive director of the sheriffs' association.

The medical marijuana measure is intended to help people with specific illnesses, diseases and conditions receive pain relief without the side effects that come with some traditional medication.

It requires anyone who obtains a permit to use medical marijuana to submit to a field sobriety test any time he or she is pulled over by police.

Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said the Illinois legislation allows prosecution under the same rules as those applied to a motorist using any other chemical.

Field sobriety tests work for alcohol, but not pot, and legalizing medical use of marijuana would jeopardize Illinois' enviable record of reduced traffic deaths, the police groups said in a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, state police and transportation officials, and the Senate sponsor of the measure.

The letter says the legislation should be amended to require a waiting time before consuming marijuana and driving and require a blood and urine test - along with determining a level of marijuana usage that should preclude driving, like the law does with alcohol.

The letter was hand-delivered to Quinn on Tuesday but The Associated Press was given a copy of it in advance of its public release Wednesday.

"Illinois is a leader in traffic safety. We're recognized in all the states as the leader and this just does not bode well for our success," chiefs of police executive director John Kennedy said. "I can see highway deaths going up because of it."

There are several problems with the proposal, the police groups say. It does not indicate what level of marijuana indicates impairment. It states that "standardized field sobriety tests" approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can detect cannabis use, but "this is not a statement of fact," the groups' letter says. The sobriety test used for alcohol is not proven as effective in detecting cannabis.

Detecting drug use in the field is a 12-step process that requires special certification, Sullivan said, adding that there are just 24 police officers in the state qualified to conduct such a test.

Savvy defense attorneys will point out the problems and get impaired-driving cases dismissed, Sullivan said, so "a lot of these (cases) won't be charged."

Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project said motorists driving under the influence of marijuana can be prosecuted in the same manner as those using more impairing pain medications. Medical marijuana users will be highlighted on driver's records available to police, he said, indicating they give consent to a field test.

"In order to determine whether a driver's actually impaired, you have to conduct field sobriety testing, and that's what police officers are well-trained to do, and that's what the bill calls for," Riffle said. "I'm a former prosecuting attorney myself. There's no reason to worry that this bill is going to be taking it easy on medical marijuana patients."

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the Democratic governor had not yet read the letter but said, "We're open-minded on this."

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