PORTLAND, Ore. -- As the first wave of legal recreational marijuana businesses begins in Washington State this week, 'drugged driving' enforcement will be business as usual.
After nearly two years, Washington state issued more than two dozen retail licenses Monday, marking a major step in the sale of recreational marijuana. Vancouver is set to open open two stores, which is just across the river from Oregon. However, The On Your Side Investigators learned local law enforcement agencies are not stepping up patrols in response to the marijuana shops opening.
KATU contacted the Oregon State Police, Clark County Sheriff's Office, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Portland Police Bureau, and Vancouver Police Monday - agencies who would likely see the most people driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) related to Washington's new retail licensing. None were aware of any "special missions" or enforcement related to the recent licensing change.
Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Greg Stewart told KATU that his officers are aware of the marijuana shops opening, and insisted they take DUII's seriously, but said PPB is in a "wait and see" approach. If the department discovers an increase in 'drugged driving', then Stewart said they could increase patrols.
"Possession of Less than One Ounce of Marijuana has been a low law enforcement priority for 35 years in Portland and this will not change due to the new Washington law," Stewart wrote in a statement emailed to KATU Monday. "What is NOT a low law enforcement priority is Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants. DUII enforcement remains a high priority for the Portland Police Bureau."
In Oregon, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is classified as a violation, similar to a traffic ticket. It is not a criminal offense and people cannot be arrested for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
Unlike alcohol, there is no legal limit for drug impairment. Instead, the threshold for drugs is "impaired to a perceptible degree." When an officer suspects a driver is high behind the wheel, he or she can call in a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) for help, an officer specially trained to identify impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol.
"I can't say there will be an increase (in marijuana-related DUII's); I mean we already have medical marijuana in Oregon," Deputy Brent Laizure said, a DRE with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.
If there is a spike this year related to 'drugged driving', Laizure believes it will more likely be the result of more awareness and arrests from officers rather an increase in the number of people smoking marijuana and driving.
Washington and Colorado voted in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. It remained unclear how many of the pot-shops being licensed in Washington planned to open on Tuesday. Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across the state.
Monday, the Portland Police Bureau re-posted Oregon's marijuana-related rules as it relates to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington:
--Washington voters have passed Initiative 502 and beginning on Thursday December 6, 2012, it is not a violation of Washington state law for adults over 21 years old to possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product, like cookies, or 72 ounces of infused liquid, like oil) for personal use. The initiative establishes a one-year period for the State of Washington to develop rules and a licensing system for the production and sale of marijuana. While legal in the State of Washington beginning on December 6, Oregon law has not changed with regards to marijuana possession, distribution or manufacturing.
--It's important though to understand that under Oregon law, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is classified as a violation. It is not a criminal offense and people cannot be arrested or jailed for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. Possession of Less than One Ounce of Marijuana has been a low law enforcement priority for 35 years in Portland and this will not change due to the new Washington law. What is NOT a low law enforcement priority is Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII). DUII enforcement remains a high priority for the Portland Police Bureau.
Much like existing fireworks laws, what is legal in Washington is not legal in Oregon, In other words, if it goes high in the air or gets you high, you should probably use it in the Evergreen State.
Link to informational video from Dec. of 2012: http://youtu.be/eh2vI0Gn2Xw