Hillsborough DUI officials: determining marijuana impairment com - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Hillsborough DUI officials: determining marijuana impairment complicated

Posted: Updated:
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Marijuana is currently legal in twenty states for medical purposes. There is a push to have the state of Florida join the group.

Advocates say marijuana has a variety of medical benefits. Law enforcement officers know it can also cause impairment.

Sergeant Troy Morgan is part of the DUI enforcement squad with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office. Sgt. Morgan says detecting marijuana impairment presents unique challenges.

"Marijuana or any narcotic of any type, whether it's marijuana or, you're not going to have the indicators that you would have with alcohol,"said Sgt. Morgan.

Video from a cruiser dashcam shows a deputy administering a field sobriety test to a man who had fallen asleep in his car in a parking lot.  The man admitted he had taken Xanax, and tests later showed he had also smoked marijuana.

Still Morgan and other law enforcement officers say they are trained, and have a variety of tests that can determine the level of impairment. Morgan says the difficulty is getting those cases to trial, and convincing a jury that someone is impaired after using marijuana.

"We cannot quantify the marijuana and or any other narcotic and which does make it difficult," said Sgt. Morgan.

In Florida a driver is considered to be legally impaired if they have a level of .08 of alcohol in their system at the time of arrest. There is no similar standard when it comes to marijuana.

"There is not a line in the sand with marijuana or any type of narcotic," said Sgt. Morgan.

Still Morgan says there are proven signs that show someone is an impaired driver, even if they have not been using alcohol.

"They are lethargic in their movements, fumbling fingers, eyes are glassy."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed a series of tests that are designed to test the level of impairment.

By now, many people are familiar with the test.

Drivers are asked to walk on a straight line, putting one foot in front of the other in a heel to toe move. Drivers are then asked to stand on one foot, holding the other foot off the ground for thirty seconds.

Coupled with other indicators, officers use these tests to determine if a driver is impaired and based on their observations, they can make an arrest.

In many cases, these tests and the interaction and conversations between the driver and officer are now recorded on video. The recordings can be used in court by prosecutors and the defense.

Sgt. Morgan says, it can be difficult to convince prosecutors to go after a DUI case, if the driver has only been smoking marijuana.

"In a lot of cases, not every case, but a lot of cases, because we cannot quantify the level of impairment or that was the substance that caused the impairment at that particular time, the case may not be filed on, or it could be reduced,"said Sergeant Morgan.

Defense attorney Jason Rogozinski says he would have a number of questions for a law enforcement officer in court who is testifying in a DUI case involving marijuana.

"Well my question would certainly be, well, when were they smoking marijuana? Was it now, was it ten days ago, was it 15 days ago, was it ten minutes ago," said Rogozinski.

Rogozinski says the same problem exists currently when someone is pulled over and they've been taking prescription drugs.

Rogozinski says if marijuana is legalized in Florida it may be difficult for law enforcement to prove someone is impaired at the moment they were seen driving, because marijuana can be detected in a person’s system for days or even weeks after they use it.

"I think that is one of the issues that is going to come up. How are they going to prove that they are under the influence of marijuana at the time of driving," said Rogozinski.

Sgt. Morgan says his officers will do what they are trained to do, and take impaired drivers off the streets to keep everyone else safe.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.


  • 8 On Your SideMore>>

  • Community reaches out to Spring Hill family after theft of lawn equipment

    Community reaches out to Spring Hill family after theft of lawn equipment

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 8:45 AM EDT2014-09-02 12:45:21 GMT
    Michael Depace wants to say "thank you" and give a huge hug to everyone that reached out after a thief stole $3,500 worth of lawn equipment from him.
    Michael Depace wants to say "thank you" and give a huge hug to everyone that reached out after a thief stole $3,500 worth of lawn equipment from him.
  • FL vehicle registration renewal fees drop

    FL vehicle registration renewal fees drop

    Monday, September 1 2014 11:48 AM EDT2014-09-01 15:48:49 GMT
    That little gift you get from the state on your birthday every year, to renew your car tag, is going to be cheaper starting Monday.  The cut will save drivers about $13 to $25 depending on the size of their vehicle.
    That little gift you get from the state on your birthday every year, to renew your car tag, is going to be cheaper starting Monday.  The cut will save drivers about $13 to $25 depending on the size of their vehicle.
  • Mold takes over St. Pete condo, creeps into neighbors' homes

    Mold takes over St. Pete condo, creeps into neighbors' homes

    Friday, August 29 2014 5:48 PM EDT2014-08-29 21:48:06 GMT
    Josephine Ramos is literally sick about the toxic black mold growing in the St. Petersburg condominium beside hers. She's been feeling ill for months with headaches and breathing problems. Recently, she had peak inside the condo next doors and couldn't believe her eyes.
    Josephine Ramos is literally sick about the toxic black mold growing in the St. Petersburg condominium beside hers. She's been feeling ill for months with headaches and breathing problems. Recently, she had peak inside the condo next doors and couldn't believe her eyes.
  • NewsMore>>

  • Explosion at beverage packaging facility in Lakeland

    Explosion at beverage packaging facility in Lakeland

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 9:51 AM EDT2014-09-02 13:51:15 GMT
    An explosion at a Lakeland beverage packaging facility sent a 60,000-pound boiler onto a CSX railroad track Tuesday morning.
    An explosion at a Lakeland beverage packaging facility sent a 60,000-pound boiler onto a CSX railroad track Tuesday morning.
  • Pasco County couple survive a week adrift at sea

    Pasco County couple survive a week adrift at sea

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 9:16 AM EDT2014-09-02 13:16:33 GMT
    A Pasco county couple is recovering after spending a week adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. They were trapped 80 miles off shore without any food and very little water for seven days.
    A Pasco county couple is recovering after spending a week adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. They were trapped 80 miles off shore without any food and very little water for seven days.
  • Tampa daycare set to reopen after crash

    Tampa daycare set to reopen after crash

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 8:48 AM EDT2014-09-02 12:48:16 GMT
    A Tampa kindergarten and daycare center is set to reopen four days after a suspected drunk driver crashed through the wall into a classroom.
    A Tampa kindergarten and daycare center is set to reopen four days after a suspected drunk driver crashed through the wall into a classroom.
  • Sign up for WFLA News Channel 8 Email Alerts

    * denotes required fields






    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Powered by WorldNow

1430 East Victory Drive
Savannah, GA 31404

Telephone: 912.651.0300
Fax: 912.651.0320
Email: newsemailalert@wsav.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.