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The Michigan State Police, in coop­er­ation with local police depart­ments, began a pilot roadside drug testing program on Nov. 8.

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The program allows police to request that motorists sus­pected of driving under the influence of drugs submit to an oral fluid test. The mouth swab will test for cocaine, cannabis, heroin, metham­phet­amine, and pre­scription drugs.

Five counties are par­tic­i­pating in the pilot program: Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair, and Washtenaw. The program will not affect Hillsdale County.

The trial period for the program will go until Nov. 8, 2018. At that point, the Michigan State Police will have 90 days to analyze the program’s effec­tiveness and send a rec­om­men­dation to the Michigan leg­is­lature about whether to expand or dis­con­tinue the program.

The program gets its authority from Public Acts 242 and 243, which Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law in 2016.

Special First Lt. for the Michigan State Police Jim Flegel said the Michigan State Police started the program in response to a 32 percent rise in drug-related traffic fatal­ities from 2015 – 2016.

“We’re hoping to give law enforcement another tool to assist them in detecting impaired drivers on con­trolled sub­stances,” Flegel said. “If this program is suc­cessful after one year, then we will expand it to addi­tional counties, and if it con­tinues to be suc­cessful, I can foresee this program being imple­mented to all law enforcement agencies in Michigan.”

Flegel said the oral fluid pilot program is only a pre­lim­inary measure, just like a breath­a­lyzer test. If the pre­lim­inary oral fluid test shows pos­itive results, then officers can take sus­pects into the police department for a blood test, he said.

“If we can show the oral fluid is accurate, then it might not only be a pre­lim­inary test, but could also poten­tially be an evi­den­tiary test,” he said.

Other law enforcement experts do not believe the oral fluid test is accurate enough to convict people of driving under the influence of drugs.

“There’s about a 25 percent false pos­itive rate. So any­thing where the science can be 25 percent wrong, they shouldn’t be doing,” said Steve Miller, retired sergeant for the Canton Police Department. “The testing is not needed.”

Miller said officers should be able to determine whether someone is driving impaired without a test.

He also raised con­cerns about how the new law will affect medical cannabis patients.

“If an officer pulls a patient over, they’ll smell mar­i­juana in the car, and then ask them to do a roadside swab test,” Miller said. “Well if you’re a medical mar­i­juana patient, then you’re going to test pos­itive.”

Miller said the pos­itive test result does not nec­es­sarily indicate whether the medical cannabis patient has the mental and physical ability to drive. This is because the active drug in cannabis, THC, can remain in saliva for 24 hours or longer, even though THC only remains active for about an hour after con­sumption.

“Even though officers have no visible signs of impairment about the person, you’re gonna get people sucked into taking the test, which just like a portable breath test, is a civil infraction if you refuse to do it,” Miller said. “Our advice at the medical mar­i­juana law firm is to not take the test. If they truly believe you’re under the influence of nar­cotics, they can still take you in.”

The fine for refusing to take the oral swab test is $200.

Frank Straub, director of strategic studies for the Police Foun­dation, said cit­izens, specif­i­cally medical mar­i­juana patients, shouldn’t worried about being tested arbi­trarily. He said officers must meet the same burden of proof to admin­ister the pre­lim­inary oral fluid test as they do for the breath­a­lyzer test.

“It can’t be the primary test out of the box,” Straub said. “Officers have to have rea­sonable sus­picion to pull a car over to begin with. After having pulled someone over, they have to notice certain behaviors, at which point they can admin­ister a field sobriety test. Based on the results of that field sobriety test, they then can request a breath­a­lyzer or oral swab test.”

In response to the idea that medical cannabis patients will fail the oral fluid test, Straub said the test kit can be cal­i­brated in such a way to dif­fer­en­tiate “current use” from “residual markers” of cannabis con­sumption.

On top of these require­ments, only spe­cially trained officers, known as drug recog­nition experts, or DREs, have the authority to admin­ister the pre­lim­inary oral fluid test, according to Flegel. There are 27 DREs working in the five par­tic­i­pating counties.

Straub said people shouldn’t be fearful of driving due to mar­i­juana legal­ization, but he also believes police officers should have the tools they need to address potential threats to public safety.

“I don’t know that we’ve nec­es­sarily seen dra­matic increases in traffic-related fatal­ities as a result of mar­i­juana legal­ization, but it is cer­tainly some­thing we need to be mindful of,” Straub said. “The focus is impaired driving, and so I think from that per­spective, any steps that we can take to ensure the safety of people on our roads, the better off we are — within the para­meters of the law and the Con­sti­tution.”

  • DrMichaelMilburn

    This “test” is a PR stunt – no mean­ingful data will be col­lected about its accuracy and reli­a­bility. No one should drive impaired, but actual impairment should be mea­sured, and the level of impairment from cannabis that is crim­i­nalized should be the same as the level of impairment for the .08 blood alcohol level. How to measure impairment? Read on!

    I have developed a new public health app that mea­sures actual impairment – it is called DRUID (an acronym for “DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs”) available now in the Apple App Store and in Google Play for the Android. DRUID mea­sures reaction time, decision making, hand-eye coor­di­nation, time esti­mation and balance, and then sta­tis­ti­cally inte­grates hun­dreds of data points into an overall impairment score. DRUID takes just 2 minutes.

    Our website is http://www.druidapp.com

    DRUID allows cannabis users (or others who drink alcohol, use pre­scription drugs, etc.) to self-assess their own level of impairment and (hope­fully) decide against driving if they are impaired. Prior to DRUID, there was no way for an indi­vidual to accu­rately assess their own level of impairment. DRUID also demon­strates that it is fea­sible to measure impairment reliably by the roadside, not just exposure to a drug. It could also be a way for cannabis users who have developed tol­erance to show they are unim­paired.

    DRUID was fea­tured on NPR’s All Things Con­sidered: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/25/511595978/can-sobriety-tests-weed-out-drivers-whove-smoked-too-much-weed

    Also on tele­vision: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2017/02/28/science-lags-behind-marijuana-impairment-testing/

    After obtaining my Ph.D. at Harvard, I have been a pro­fessor of psy­chology at UMass/Boston for the past 40 years, spe­cial­izing in research methods, mea­surement and sta­tistics.

    Michael Milburn, Pro­fessor
    Department of Psy­chology
    UMass/Boston