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Officials cracking down on driving high as marijuana DUIs increase

Posted at 11:01 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 14:27:28-04

There are renewed efforts to combat the problem following the legalization of marijuana in the state. Funding was given to the state after the passage of Prop 207.

"That's what is so important, to have this funding available for the police agencies, insurance offices and of course, DPS to be able to do better enforcement," says Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety Director Alberto Gutier.

The Department of Public Safety is being awarded more than $1 million to split between the Highway Patrol Division and State Crime Lab.

Money will be used to increase the number of trained drug recognition experts and phlebotomists, streamline the analysis of THC samples, and reduce turnaround times for DUI lab testing.

"Not only the accuracy, but also the timelessness is very critical. That when the crime lab processes any kind of blood coming from any part of the state, that the crime lab does it on a timely manner," says Gutier.

The Avondale Police Department is another agency being awarded funding to combat impaired driving.

"We want to try to rule out if they do have a controlled substance in their system - if that was a factor with whether or not they were impaired as a driver," says Lauren Evans, PIO, Avondale Police Department.

The department will also be purchasing a drone and radar equipment.

"They use the software with reconstructing collision scenes, the more serious ones where there's a fatality or a serious injury. They want to be able to gather up as much evidence as they can," says Evans.

State data shows that arrests have increased dramatically as drugged driving has become more prevalent.

Numbers jumped from around 1,153 in 2009 to over 7,140 in 2019, a 519-percent increase in ten years.

"I think it's much more difficult now for the prosecution to sustain a conviction because now just having active THC in a driver's system, is not enough to prove the DUI. It's not an automatic DUI anymore. Now, the state is required to prove that that level of THC was sufficient, that it actually caused that driver to be impaired," says Tom Dean, marijuana attorney in Phoenix.