PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Five licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island are set to begin selling recreational cannabis on Thursday.
Back in May, Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island but delayed the sale of the product until Dec. 1.
With the new law going into effect, state and local police have been preparing for the possibility of more impaired drivers and say they are ready to do everything they can to keep the roads safe.
Rhode Island State Police Cpl. L.J. Fiorenzano told 12 News every police officer is trained to detect if someone is under the influence, but some are experts in drug impairment.
“We have what is known as drug recognition experts we have 10 members of the team on the state police, and statewide there are about 70 from the municipal departments as well,” he explained.
Fiorenzano said officers will conduct car stops the same way they normally would. Drivers will be asked to step out of their car if the officer thinks they are impaired or under the influence, then they’ll be asked to consent to a field sobriety test.
“The first part of the test is called the horizontal gaze and stigmas test, so you might not see their eyes jerk back and forth if somebody is under the influence of marijuana,” Fiorenzano explained. “The next test is called the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test, and they will show signs of impairment if they are under the influence of marijuana.”
Trying to determine if someone is under the influence of something other than alcohol presents a challenge for officers. Fiorenzano said they have a preliminary breath test that will be used with the consent of the driver if it seems like they are under the influence of alcohol, but there currently isn’t a device to detect if someone is under the influence of marijuana.
“If they take them into custody and think they are under the influence of marijuana, then they call in the drug recognition expert to the barracks or the police station,” Fiorenzano said. “We won’t come to the scene, but we go back to the barracks and we conduct an evaluation on the person as long as they consent to it.”
“We check their pulse, we check their blood pressure, we measure their pupil size, we have a conversation with them, we interview the arresting officer, we check for any injection marks, their temperature might be a little elevated, depending upon what they are under the influence of, so then as drug recognition experts, we make the determination of what they are under the influence of,” he continued.
The Rhode Island Cannabis Act allows a maximum of 33 stores to open statewide. Those future retailers will eventually be selected by a yet-to-be-formed panel called the Cannabis Control Commission.
Only adults 21 or older will be able to purchase the drug.
In a statement to 12 News, the office of Attorney General Peter Neronha said he’s concerned about the potential impact that marijuana legalization will have on public safety, given the challenges of detecting drugged driving and holding offenders accountable.
“Most police departments do not have a sufficient number of officers trained as [drug recognition experts] and could benefit from additional funding to train more officers,” Neronha’s office said. “At the same time, Rhode Island Courts have also previously questioned the sufficiency of DRE testimony. See State of Rhode Island v. Marshall Howard.
“These challenges are not unique to Rhode Island, and we will continue to monitor developments nationally in the hopes that new and improved practices and technologies emerge,” the statement continued. “In the meantime, we will continue to enforce the law and seek justice in these cases to the best of our ability.”