‘It is not legal to drive and smoke marijuana’: Drug recognition expert talks cannabis legalization, keeping roadways safe

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — It’s day one of marijuana being legal in Rhode Island, which has some residents questioning how safe our roadways will be, and how this will impact public safety.

Motorcycle officer and patrolman Jose Deschamps is a 28-year veteran of the Providence Police Department, and is one of three Drug Recognition Experts in the department.

He said “drugged driving” is similar to drunk driving. Although marijuana is legalized, you cannot smoke and drive.

“It is legal to possess marijuana on a person. It is not legal to drive and smoke marijuana,” he explained. “So, there’s a difference.”

But, with the legalization happening Thursday, there are no statistics or resources when it comes to testing a person for drugs.

“There’s no machine test that we have to say that you are drugged at the moment,” he said.

For the time being, officers will have to use their own senses to determine if someone may be high while behind the wheel.

“We look for bloodshot, watery eyes,” Deschamps explained. “It is smell, it’s sight, you’re using your senses, but it’s not just the operator. It could be things in the car, outside of the vehicle, and you have to have that conversation with that subject to find out what’s going on.”

Officers follow a 13-step process, which includes a blood pressure and heart rate test.

But, Deschamps said anyone has the right to refuse a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, or SFST.

According to police, with alcohol, there is a 70% refusal rate, which makes it hard for officers to obtain data and statistics.

Categories: News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island