How UCPD handles driving while high

Police is now comparing drunk driving with driving with high for DUIs. (Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut Police Department has established protocol in recent years to better gauge how to deal with cases of students driving while under the influence of marijuana on campus, according to deputy police chief Andrew Fournier.

Fournier said that, generally speaking, the act of detecting a driver under the influence of any substance is split into several different phases.

“The first phase being vehicle in motion,” Fournier said. “The officer would observe the vehicle and then make a decision on whether the operator violated a motor vehicle law and whether or not the vehicle should be stopped.”

The next step in deciding whether or not a driver is under the influence involves analyzing different aspects of the individual’s behavior, Fournier added.

“The second phase is personal contact,” Fournier said. “It is the point where the officer can speak to the operator and can make face-to-face observations based on sight, hearing and smell.”

There is no single test that can confirm or deny whether or not a student is high while operating a motor vehicle, whereas drunk driving cases are easier to confirm with a breathalyzer, Fournier said.

“If an arrest is made and the officer suspects that drugs were the cause of impairment, a urine analysis kit will be done and sent to the state forensics laboratory for analysis,” Fournier said.

In the last four years, the number of DUI-related arrests on campus have decreased. In 2015, there were 49 arrests. In 2016, there were 47 arrests. In 2017, there were 43 arrests. In 2018, there were 32 arrests, according to data from UCPD.

Of those arrests, only a small percentage were drug-related. In 2015 and 2016, five DUI arrests were drug-related for each year. In 2017, four were drug-related. In 2018, two were drug-related.

Because many states have recently legalized the use of recreational and medical marijuana, police departments everywhere are tasked with deciding how to address arrests regarding driving while high. Some departments have an assigned Drug Recognition Expert who acts as a roadside assistant who can administer tests, according to Reason Foundation.

Connecticut currently has 53 certified Drug Recognition Experts, which is up from 38 in 2017, according an article in the Hartford Courant.

The DRE is able to rule out other medical impairments, including diabetic shock and stroke, before taking the driver back to the station to conduct a full, 12-step test in a controlled environment, the Reason Foundation says. Physiological and physical signs of impairment are always taken into account.

Often times, the police officer and DRE on the case are tasked with deciding whether or not the individual signs and tests are sufficient to determine marijuana is the cause of impairment through the variety of tests conducted.

“These protocols and standards have not changed in the last few years,” Fournier said. “They are still applicable today.”

In Connecticut, state legislators are trying to decide how to better approach driving while under the influence of marijuana, given that governor Ned Lamont recently announced a push for recreational marijuana legalization in 2019, according to the Boston Globe.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton told the Hartford Courant she is hopeful more concrete ways to detect marijuana impairment can be implemented in the future.

“This is one thing we don’t seem to have resolved,” Lavielle told the Courant. “If adults are allowed to smoke marijuana in the privacy of their homes, or someone else’s home, or somewhere they can’t hurt anybody else, that’s one thing. But if they’re driving and they’re high, that’s a bit of a different story.”


Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.