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Marijuana DUIIs difficult to assess, St. Helens police say

In Oregon, a DUII is a DUII, and the question of whether marijuana factored into the offense is difficult to answer

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ST. HELENS POLICE DEPARTMENT - A vehicle involved in a DUII crash on Thursday, May 5, in which marijuana was involved, sits in the driveway of a home on Old Portland Road and 8th Street in St. Helens.In the past two weeks, at least two car crashes in St. Helens have involved motorists driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol or prescription drugs, St. Helens police report.

St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss drew attention to the crashes in advance of a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report released Tuesday. The report found that fatal car crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled in the state of Washington, which approved marijuana legalization in 2012, from 2013 to 2014.

Moss said it’s difficult to assess how many marijuana-related DUII charges have been issued locally since recreational use of the drug in Oregon was legalized in 2015. Unlike other states where recreational and medical marijuana use has been legalized, Oregon has not established clear standards for assessing intoxicated driving while under the influence of the drug — a source of frustration for law enforcement officers.

Additionally, when a DUII charge is issued, no distinction is made to identify the influencing intoxicant, whether alcohol, prescription drugs or marijuana, Moss said. Without that distinction, it can be difficult to guage whether driving under the influence of marijuana is on the rise in Oregon, as appears to be the case in Washington and Colorado per the AAA report.

“A DUI is a DUI,” Moss said of the Oregon law.

The two DUII cases Moss referenced involved drivers who admitted using marijuana, but were also found to have other intoxicants in their system.

Shawntelle K. Jenkins, 47, of St. Helens, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving, and hit and run on Thursday, May 5, after she veered off Old Portland Road near the intersection with 8th Street, crashed into a power pole and swerved across the road before stopping in a residential driveway. The woman had been drinking alcohol and using marijuana prior to the crash, according to police.

While no one was injured in the incident, Moss said several children were playing outside at the house next door.

Then, in mid-April, Melody Joy Krushel, 51, of St. Helens was arrested on charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, failure to perform the duties of a driver and fourth-degree assault following a head-on crash at the intersection of Highway 30 and St. Helens Street that left one person injured.

Krushel had taken prescription medications and used marijuana prior to the crash, according to Moss. The police log also indicates that Krushel had marijuana with her at the time of the crash.

While Moss, a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization laws, said it’s difficult to detect if marijuana-related DUIIs are increasing in frequency, local law enforcement have responded to more calls or traffic stops where marijuana is present, including instances of minors in possession at the high school, he said.

When law enforcement officers suspect a driver is impaired and perform a traffic stop, they then conduct a standard field sobriety test. If the suspect fails, a breathalyzer test is then administered to determine blood alcohol content. A BAC of 0.08 or higher results in a DUII charge and, generally, no further tests are administered, Moss said.

A suspect who admits to using marijuana recently might not be tested for the drug because a DUII charge can be leveled for exceeding the alcohol limit alone, he said.

In certain situations, however, a blood test for marijuana use may be performed if a person has admitted use or a drug recognition officer — an officer who is specially trained and certified to recognize people who are under the influence of marijuana and other drugs — suspects use.

But that’s where things get complicated for law enforcement, Moss said.

Washington and Colorado both legalized recreational marijuana use and set the legal limit at less than 5 nanograms per liter of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, in the blood.

In Oregon, there is no set legal limit for THC blood content.

“That’s been a frustration for law enforcement in Oregon ever since Measure 91 passed, is, how are you going to help us as law enforcement with DUI enforcement?” Moss said. “The proponents of Measure 91 said, ‘Well, just keep doing what you’re doing with alcohol and DUI,’ but it just doesn’t [work the same].”

Law enforcement officers are looking for standards to follow that simply don’t exist, Moss said, leaving officers to rely on their own judge-

ment and experiences, which can be difficult to defend in court.

“So we’re looking for standards and we don’t have them. We’re left to the officers’ opinions and training and experience which can all be attacked and scrutinized by defense [in court],” Moss said.

And, at present, there doesn’t appear to be any concerted effort in the state to bring further clarity for law enforcement officers to aid

their duty to police driving under the influence of mari-


“This last legislative session [setting state standards] was discussed, but they did not, they didn’t do it. So now we have to wait, the next legislative session is in 2017, to see if there will be any standard,” Moss said.