Video | ‘Is the State Prepared to Recognize Signs of Cannabis Influence?’ (NBC CT)

January 23, 2023

Story as it appeared on NBC CT’s ‘Face the Facts’


Earlier this week, we learned cannabis shops collected approximately $2 million in sales in the first seven days of being able to sell product to recreational customers.


With this new budding industry and the added tax revenue for the state also comes added challenges. Among them is public safety.


NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck spoke with State Senator Paul Cicarella about what lawmakers are starting to consider as this evolves. He’s a Republican from North Haven and a ranking member of the Public Safety and Security Committee.


Mike Hydeck: So when it comes to driving under the influence of cannabis, both state and local police are now starting to get trained, and some are already trained on how to recognize someone who’s driving high. Do we have, in your estimation, enough officers trained right now to keep the roads safe?

Paul Cicarella: No. No, we definitely do not have enough officers that have the proper training. And it’s a DRE, it’s a Drug Recognition Expert, is the acronym. And it’s an extensive training and quite costly. And there’s approximately, I think, 62 officers in the state of Connecticut that have this training, and we have 169 municipalities. So when you talk about not having enough, I think those numbers could explain that there.

Mike Hydeck: So we know and we’ve done stories on them and have seen them on the side of the road, the field sobriety tests, when people have to touch their nose or walk a line or in some cases, you know, submit to another kind of test. How is a test for cannabis conducted? Those 60 plus officers who have the training, how do they do it?

Paul Cicarella: So it’s a series of similar tasks, and they would be observing how they respond to those. But that’s like a second step. You know, as you said, you see somebody being pulled over and they’re walking a straight line, once they fail the field sobriety, then they would be given a breathalyzer roadside, possibly in most times, and then it would determine if in fact, they’re intoxicated, and then brought into custody. And depending on what happened and what the circumstances are, the charges could be great. God forbid, there was some injuries or even worse. With that information, someone could be prosecuted. Unfortunately, when it comes to marijuana, if they produce enough evidence to believe someone’s intoxicated, there’s no real way to understand if they are under the effects of marijuana. And even with these experts that have this training, it’s still going to be a challenge to really prosecute if something very serious does happen when they’re pulled over. And those are the challenges and things that we’re worried about here in the state of Connecticut.

Mike Hydeck: So when those tests are conducted, is there a concern that some of that evidence is going to hold up in court? I guess, when you mean, prosecute, that’s maybe the difficult thing moving forward? And we’re not the first state obviously, to go through this. Can we learn things from Colorado and Oregon and some other states who have had to grapple with this ahead of us?

Paul Cicarella: We can and I really hope we took some of the negative things that we’ve seen that came out of the states that did this prior to us and adjust. I think this was kind of pushed forward rather quickly. And there’s a lot of things that need to be addressed to make sure our general population is safe. There’s not really a test that can determine when somebody is under the influence of the marijuana. There’s some tests, I believe in Canada and overseas where they would swab your mouth. But the false positive rate and false negative rate is so high that again, that might be a challenge to be admissible in court as well. So at this time, there’s no way to really do that. And I was trying to find a case that they were able to prove somebody was under the influence of marijuana and be able to, again, prosecute that solely just with being under the influence of marijuana.

Mike Hydeck: Is it likely that we have to change the law? I believe in Connecticut, when they test for certain substances, I think we are considered what’s called a urine state and not a blood state. Would we have to change the laws to try to do a different kind of chemical test to check on people who are in roadside stops?

Paul Cicarella: So again, you know, even a blood test, they’ll show you that there is THC in the system, but to determine when it was ingested, and if they’re, in fact, under the influence at the time of the accident, or being pulled over, there’s, you know, there’s not enough information to be able to produce that evidence. You know, you could say when somebody has alcohol coming out of their system, you’d be able to scientifically show when they started drinking based upon their size, their weight, and it would leave their body in a certain amount of time. There’s not a test like that to produce when that marijuana was ingested.

Mike Hydeck: Because as we know, studies show that the THC can stay in your body as long as a month. So if you’re not specifically high behind the wheel but used cannabis 27 days ago, it wouldn’t apply, right? That would make it very difficult in court, I would imagine.

Paul Cicarella: Absolutely. And if I was a defense attorney, that’s the first thing I would say is, how do we know he was under the influence at the time, which would obviously increase the charges, God forbid, of a serious injury or death when somebody is under the influence. That would be a definite tactic of a defense attorney to represent their client.