Cannabis users can protect themselves against unreliable police methods of determining their impairment with new insurance coverage that provides financial and legal protection for those charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. Salt Lake City-based Reepher’s new insurance product launched this week in Missouri, with a nationwide rollout eventually slated.
Justin Kahn, CEO and co-founder of Reepher, noted in a company statement that marijuana drug tests don’t tell if a person is high. Instead, the tests detect the presence of cannabis metabolites, which can remain in the system for weeks after ingestion, especially for frequent users.
“Unlike alcohol, there is currently no chemical test for cannabis impairment. THC and cannabis metabolites stay in your system and can trigger positive drug test results in sober drivers. Kahn said. “This means that a regular cannabis user is likely to fail a drug test, regardless of when they last used it.”
As cannabis legalization continues to spread across the country, law enforcement is becoming increasingly aware of the very real problem of those who choose to drive while impaired by marijuana. But when someone is arrested for a cannabis DUI, police and prosecutors use unreliable drug tests as proof that the offense was committed.
“Cannabis DUIs are on the rise in every state, and police are using testing methods that show the presence of THC, not impairment,” Kahn said.
Police methods for determining marijuana impairment are unreliable
The tactics used by law enforcement agencies to identify impaired drivers compound the problem of drug tests that look for molecules rather than evidence of impairment. In many states, police use so-called Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But the training these police officers receive to be certified as DREs and the way this training is employed in the field have come under increasing criticism.
In 2017, the Georgia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit against the Cobb County Police Department on behalf of three drivers who were arrested for impaired driving solely on the basis of the road investigation and suspicions of a DRE.
“What’s really troubling about these warrantless arrests is that we have police officers walking our streets arresting innocent people and throwing them in jail based on training that is absolutely not reliable and based on junk science,” said ACLU attorney Sean Young. .
DREs are trained to look for physical signs of impairment such as red eyes or pupils that do not constrict or recover normally. But the signs these agents look for may all be present for other reasons. In Cobb County, the three drivers were arrested even though no drugs were found during a search of the vehicle involved. Despite all other evidence, they were arrested and jailed on suspicion of impaired driving and were only exonerated after blood tests showed no drugs.
“What bothers me is that these police officers are being told that they can now perform medical examinations on random people on the side of the road,” Young said. “I wouldn’t trust my own brother to give me a medical because he’s not a doctor. And so, why do we allow – why do these police departments allow police officers to do medical tests on people? It’s wrong.”
The problem of questionable arrests by DREs is not limited to Georgia. In 2019, a Massachusetts judge dismissed testimony from a police officer who had been certified by his department as a DRE, writing that the officer “is not an expert in the effects of certain narcotics on the body and that he is not qualified to offer an expert opinion on whether ‘the defendant’ was under the influence of certain narcotics”.
And in New Jersey, cannabis regulators are delaying rules for determining whether a person is under the influence of marijuana ahead of a state Supreme Court ruling on the validity of the training they receive. DRE and the tactics they employ. Similar methods are used to determine disability in the workplace.
“We’re waiting to see what happens with this case,” New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commissioner Krista Nash said at a trade event earlier this month. “We don’t want to write rules and then settle a conflicting court case.”
Cannabis DUIs come at a high cost
Unreliable drug testing and DRE protocols to determine if someone is driving under the influence can lead to non-intoxicated drivers being arrested, resulting in thousands of dollars in charges legal. Other methods, including the development of a “marijuana breathalyzer”, also seem problematic.
With a policy from Reepher, the company will cover up to $15,000 of eligible expenses, including payment for a legal defense team of the member’s choice, car towing or impound charges, alternative transportation , pre-trial costs, personal hardship, incidental costs and court time.
To obtain cannabis DUI coverage, consumers must register in advance and become a Reepher member. Then, if a member is arrested or charged with a cannabis DUI, they can file a claim that includes documentation of the event. An initial payment is made to the member when the application is approved, and additional payments are made as the case progresses.
Kahn said the Reepher “does not encourage or authorize anyone to ride high”.
Instead, the company offers protection to cannabis consumers who must contend with ever-changing state cannabis policies and a court system ill-prepared to determine marijuana use.
Although coverage is only available in Missouri so far, Reepher plans to launch coverage in other states soon. Oregon and Georgia are the next states on the company‘s rollout list, with policies expected to be available within the next 60 to 90 days. More information is available on the Reepher website. Plans start at $15 per month.
“Cannabis use may be legal in some states,” Kahn said, “but driving under the influence in all 50 states is not.”