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AZ: DUI crashes becoming more challenging to investigate, prosecute

AZ: DUI crashes becoming more challenging to investigate, prosecute
Alcohol crashes down, marijuana crashes up, officers say

ABC 15
By Venton Blandin
March 23, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Law enforcement agencies throughout the Valley are noticing a shift in the number of DUI crashes. Those involving alcohol, police say, are down for the most part but crashes involving marijuana are up.

In this Operation Safe Roads report, ABC15 looks at the challenges when it comes to enforcing the law and prosecuting the cases.

“My goal is to get these people off the street and also to get them safely home,” said an officer.

Most nights, officers do — but back in May 2007, Felicia Edwards did not make it home.

“Her smile. She was a ray of sunshine,” said Jennifer Thompson, whose daughter was killed in a marijuana-related DUI crash.

The 14-year-old girl died in a two-car crash on Bush Highway at Bluepoint Bridge near the Salt River. The teenager was in the car with a driver who was drunk behind the wheel. The dangers were compounded when another driver, who was high on marijuana, crashed into them.

“Marijuana to me, now, is the new DUI,” added Thompson.

Back then, recreational marijuana was illegal in Arizona. Fast-forward 15 years, it’s not for those who are 21 or older.

“A lot of people think because it is legal you are allowed to consume it, smoke it, and drive,” said Scottsdale Officer Michael Clore.

But that is not true, says Officer Clore, who has worked more DUIs than he’d like to count.

“We get them seven days a week, 365 days a year,” added Clore.

Jared Johnson prosecutes DUI cases involving marijuana for Scottsdale.

“They are challenging because they are new, and officers are learning and adapting to how they should investigate these,” said Johnson. “Prosecutors are learning and adapting to how we can win at trial on these cases.”

Johnson continued, “There is no, oh, if you have a particular reading or number of nanograms, that means impairment.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is hopeful a particular impairment level is eventually set.

“I think determining an impairment threshold is imperative, so there is clarity, there is understanding, and it is across the board,” said Terri Bowen.

Until then, officers like Clore are forced to rely on what they see.

“What we will look for are certain indicators your body will psychologically exhibit and then put you through some clinical studies which your body will physiologically exhibit,” added Clore.

Felicia’s mom says she wants tougher laws.

“Anything that impairs you, and you drive, you’re taking a risk and you are taking a risk for others,” added Thompson.

Johnson wants drivers to realize that using pot is the same as drinking.

“There is not the same cultural understanding that…this substance needs to be treated like alcohol. If you’re going to use it, fine, but don’t drive,” added Johnson.