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A permit to smoke legal pot won’t help if you are too stoned to drive

Neither a note from your doctor nor an official certificate from Arkansas will help if you drive your car into a ditch after you have legally smoked marijuana for medical purposes.

“If you are on drugs, even if they are legal, you still have to comply with the law in terms of the ability to operate a vehicle,” says Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay, who opposed the medical marijuana measure that state voters approved on November 8. “I don’t see much difference in anything. You can legally buy alcohol, but the law still holds you accountable if you drive under the influence.

“If you are impaired through the use of medication,” Mr. Holladay says, “you’re still liable. When you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you become responsible for the safe operation.”

Although testing for a blood-marijuana-content isn’t useful, police officers can conduct other tests to determine whether a driver is impaired.

The first step is behavior that indicates impairment, says Lt. Cody Burk, who oversees the sheriff’s traffic safety department.

“The car is weaving,” he says. “You walk up to the driver, ask for a driver’s license, and he gives you a credit card.”

The key is to document impairment, Mr. Burk said, which is true whether a driver is suspected of drinking too much alcohol or is driving after taking too many hydrocodone pills for pain.

The Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock offers intensive training in recognizing impairment, he said. In the absence of the smell of alcoholic beverages, officers can look for hints such as pupil dilation. A blood-pressure reading can suggest whether a driver is on stimulants or depressants.

“Usually at the end of that course, you can pretty much call what kind of drug they are on,” he said.

Once an officer determines impairment is sufficient for an arrest, officers can draw blood for testing by the crime lab.

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