YPD concerned about drivers under the influence of marijuana

YPD concerned about drivers under the influence of marijuana »Play Video
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Driving while high is one of the big fears about legal marijuana here in Washington. Yakima police say enforcing that part of the law alone will drive up their costs. However, KIMA learned police have administered fewer tests on drivers for pot since the law took effect.

Yakima's made it clear: no pot businesses in the city. Police support the decision. One of YPD's biggest worries is that more people will get high and then get behind the wheel.

"I think the use of cannabis and the way it's affecting the people driving in our city is a huge concern for us," said Sgt. Chance Belton, the Yakima police traffic unit supervisor.

The issue was big enough for the police chief to address City Council in February. Chief Dominic Rizzi told council members it takes longer to process drivers who might be high - and costs more money because of that time. It takes longer because a blood test is required if drugs are suspected.

So, do the numbers back up this concern? KIMA found there hasn't been more work for the department since pot became legal.

Total DUIs fell from 393 in 2012, before pot was legal, to 360 last year.
And, the number of required blood tests administered fell slightly as well. However, more drivers were caught high on pot.

"The fact that we did fewer blood draws, I don't know if we can draw a lot information from that. The fact that a higher percentage showed positive for cannabis, I think that we can draw a conclusion from that," said Sgt. Belton.

The argument about the need for more blood tests was key in the city council decision to ask state lawmakers for a share in the tax revenue from legal pot activity. Council member Dave Ettl stands by that decision.

"We have to err on the side of caution," said Ettl. "We don't have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and going, 'Ah, it's not going to be that much, no big deal.' We don't know that, and so we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

Ettl says Yakima isn't asking for as much money as cities that allow pot shops, just what's needed to offset the city's cost for increased law enforcement - an amount that could be called into question.

YPD says the time to process drivers suspected of being high is about three and a half hours. It's from time needed to get a search warrant for the blood test and taking the driver to the hospital.