DUII arrests on the upswing, pot not the culprit

Driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) arrests have jumped 400 percent in Rockaway Beach and nearly doubled in Tillamook since about this time last year, according to law enforcement officials.

By Ann Powers
[email protected]

But, it’s not as bad as it sounds – and not necessarily stemming from the legalization of recreational marijuana use as some may believe, police noted.

DUI blurred rd
“In 2015, Rockaway Beach Police Department (RBPD) had one DUII arrest which was the result of controlled substance use – no alcohol or cannabis,” said Officer Sean Ahlers.

From the beginning of 2016, five arrests have been made in RBPD’s jurisdiction and none were marijuana related. Ahlers said three were because of alcohol, one was possibly due to prescription medication and a medical reason resulted in another.

And the arrest numbers haven’t spiked in Rockaway because more people are driving under the influence. Ahlers said the department was short staffed last year, but currently at full capacity.

Hence, more RBPD officers patrolling the area and catching law breakers.

In Tillamook, impaired driving busts jumped from 17, between Jan. 1 to Aug. 18 in 2015, to 33 for that same time period this year, according to Detective Nick Troxel.

Police Chief Terry Wright said booze is more often the perpetrator rather than other factors, and the number is up because of more training from the Oregon Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program.

“Most are alcohol,” he explained. “Or alcohol and drugs. Part of (the increase) is training received from the state and working with our DUII District Attorney.”

In Manzanita, Police Chief Erik Harth said he believes the DUII arrests this year are close to what the department had last year.

While police said they aren’t pulling over a lot of drivers stoned on pot, Tillamook County District Attorney William B. Porter said he’s pulling in additional DUII cases related to weed.

“More of the DUII’s are marijuana based,” he said. “Perhaps a function of lots of newer police officers in our area with specific training in these cases.”

The DEC trains police to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol. Oregon is one of 46 states, including the District of Columbia, participating in the program.
Motorists will fail a DUII field test if their blood alcohol (BAC) reading is 0.08% or higher. For drivers under 21, any amount of alcohol in the bloodstream constitutes a failing the sobriety test. For CDL drivers the legal limit is a BAC of 0.04%.

Officials said DUII/Marijuana is a crime, regardless of whether the driver is a recreational smoker or has a Medical Marijuana Card. However, there is no ‘legal limit’ when it comes to cannabis. That’s where an officer’s DEC training kicks in.

“So far, there is no scientific test level machine for marijuana,” Porter said.  “So, in marijuana cases, officers rely solely on Field Sobriety Tests and driving to look for impairment.  I don’t expect to see any marijuana machine test any time soon.”

But, that doesn’t mean officials aren’t seeing negative consequences off the roadways since recreational cannabis use was legally implemented in July, 2015.

“In the past we saw kids with small amounts of marijuana, usually poor quality,” Wright noted. “Now we are starting to catch juveniles with better grade marijuana and it sometimes is in containers from retail marijuana locations.”

Wright said it’s a good idea for adults to keep control of their pot, lock it up and track it.

“We all know that juveniles will take parent or family members cigarettes and alcohol,” he said. “Now that marijuana is more readily accessible and accepted, this is now more easily accessed by juveniles. There is less of a chance you will notice a little marijuana gone than you would a bottle of alcohol or a pack of cigarettes. The same also goes for prescription medication.”

He added parents should discuss their cannabis use with their children, as they would with medication, cigarettes or alcohol, and keep these substances safe from kids.

Wright said those with questions or wanting more information can contact the Tillamook Police Department.