The legalization of marijuana has continued to spread across the United States, with 29 states and the District of Columbia allowing marijuana use in some form. Thus, there is a growing need for law enforcement officials to detect impairment to drive with the use of marijuana/cannabis.

In Colorado and California, a new program that concentrates on the detection of marijuana impairment is being offered to law enforcement professionals.

The Green Lab course, administered by attorney Chris Halsor, is an effort to efficiently train professionals in the detection of marijuana/cannabis related impairment to drive. The goal is to provide training and consultation for public policymakers, state and local governments, law enforcement and prosecutors at all levels to learn about the intricacies of legal marijuana.

There are now eight states that allow for legal recreational use of marijuana/cannabis. Adding up the population within the U.S. from each of these states — California, Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Maine and Alaska means that 20.65 percent of the adult citizens in the country can legally use marijuana/cannabis.

The state of Colorado has had legal adult use of marijuana/cannabis since 2012. The number of fatal crashes in Colorado with the driver having active marijuana/cannabis/THC in their system, indicating use within the previous few hours, were 18 in 2013 and increased to 77 in 2016.

Despite the increase in road fatalities, 55 percent of those surveyed in Colorado believed that it is safe to drive with marijuana use, and more than three-quarters of marijuana users consider it very unlikely that they will be pulled over by law enforcement for being over the legal limit. Furthermore, the surveys indicate that marijuana users are acutely aware that there are no technologies or tools to determine fitness to drive with marijuana use.

What is effective are highly-trained officers skilled in the detection of marijuana-related impairment. The training, while effective, is time-consuming and costly and often out of reach for small municipalities.

The Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training program is managed and coordinated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) with support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The program has three phases: preliminary education, 56 hours of classroom education and 40-60 hours of field training. Once trained, the DRE officers have the extensive skills and expertise in the detection and identification of drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Another program to train officers, also administered through the IACP, is the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training program. This program is a 16-hour course and was developed to meet the need for more highly-trained officers for municipalities, but could not have them trained under DRE for time or economic reasons.

While Colorado has increased funding for ARIDE and DRE training, there remains a need for training specific to marijuana impairment. To meet this need, Halsor started training officers using Green Lab, which incorporates a full day of classroom education. Additional activities include field trips to commercial marijuana facilities.

But a key component of the training is the actual laboratory. During this session, officers are able to examine prescreened volunteers who are dosed on marijuana/cannabis products of their choice. The products are reflective of what is available in a state that has legal recreational marijuana.

At the Green Lab training, officers are able to examine prescreened volunteers who are dosed on marijuana/cannabis products of their choice. (Image: Understanding Legal Marijuana)

"It is essential training because even the most highly-trained DREs who live and breathe impaired driving will find that the world has changed and that the traditional methods for detection, investigation and prosecution aren't cutting it," Halsor said. "Adapt to progress. Ignore and hope it will go away at your peril."

Every municipality within a state with legal recreational marijuana use needs numerous officers trained in DRE and ARIDE. In addition to this training and when such training is not viable officers should have opportunities for classroom training specific to marijuana/cannabis as well as laboratory experiences, such as Green Lab, with individuals having acutely used marijuana/cannabis.

Trained officers are the best way to keep the roads clear of impaired drivers.