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Police in Illinois worry about looming marijuana legalization

Many senior law enforcement officials in Illinois anticipate facing significantly higher overtime, equipment and training costs after the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in the state on Jan. 1, 2020. Determining whether or not a driver is operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol can be done at the roadside in just a few minutes with portable breath-testing devices, but matters become far more complex when drug use is suspected.

In these situations, suspected drugged drivers are taken by police to a nearby hospital. Officers must then obtain a search warrant to collect blood and urine samples from the suspect for testing. The legal limit for THC in the bloodstream is five nanograms per milliliter in Illinois. These additional steps will add at least an hour to DUI traffic stops according to police officials. This is a concern because many police departments in Illinois are understaffed and lack the resources to pay additional overtime.

Law enforcement will also be expected to bear the costs of training officers to detect signs of marijuana impairment and equipping them with field-testing kits that are currently being developed. A field test that uses cheek swabs to reveal marijuana use is being evaluated by the Carol Stream Police Department, but it will be years before the technology is issued statewide even if the tests are successful.

Another challenge facing police departments and prosecutors is the lack of credible scientific evidence linking THC levels in the blood to impairment. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to have impaired driving charges dismissed when allegations of marijuana use are supported by toxicology test results alone. This is because marijuana remains in the bloodstream for weeks after the drug has been consumed, which could make it extremely difficult to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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