With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arizona this past November, the Herald/Review asked the top cops at the two largest law enforcement agencies in Cochise County, to discuss their concerns about the new law and how it will be enforced in regard to someone driving under the influence of pot or someone displaying and possessing it in a public place.
Below are the responses from Sierra Vista Police Chief Adam Thrasher and Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels:
Herald/Review: Talk about the concerns you and your sworn personnel have about recreational marijuana in Sierra Vista and unincorporated Cochise County?
Chief Adam Thrasher: Our concerns regarding recreational marijuana is the potential of more impaired drivers, public impairment that leads to criminal acts, and most notably, the increased visibility and availability of marijuana to minors.
Sheriff Mark Dannels: My concerns regarding the recreational marijuana are the opinions versus the facts. As with any law passed by the people, I want to ensure my office in cooperation with our County Attorney’s Office educates our citizens to the facts within the law. My office will enforce the law as written highlighted with fairness and equality. Those that choose to intentionally ignore the law as written will be charged accordingly. My mission is to fulfill my duties within the intent of the people (law).
H/R: Proposition 207 says that “a person with metabolites or components of marijuana in the person’s body is guilty ... only if the person is also impaired to the slightest degree.”
The change will mean people who use marijuana can’t be charged with driving impaired days later unless law enforcement officers also show the person was impaired, for example, with a roadside test or observations of erratic or inattentive driving.
How will this be enforced in Sierra Vista and the county if an officer or deputy stops a motorist?
AT: “There will not be much of a change in the enforcement of DUI laws. All DUI laws, whether for alcohol or drugs, are investigated as a DUI-impaired to the slightest degree at the scene. Officers that contact drivers suspected of being impaired with alcohol and/or drugs conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) to determine if the driver is impaired. Arrests on scene are typically made for “impaired to the slightest degree” before any evidentiary breath or blood tests are obtained.”
MD: “Those that make a conscious decision to use marijuana and drive a motor vehicle can be subject to a DUI offense. The element of DUI in the State of Arizona is impairment to the slightest degree. Any alcohol and/or drug to include recreational that impairs are factors within a DUI investigation. This application of law has been enforced for years and the passing of recreational marijuana will not change how we enforce our DUI law.”
H/R: How will SVPD and CCSO enforce the law for example, if someone is caught at a city or county park with less than an ounce of marijuana but they’re displaying it in a public place?
AT: The city ordinance passed by the city council only applies to city property. Since many of the city properties offer family friendly activities (i.e. parks, Cove, ballfields, city buildings, etc.), one of the purposes of the ordinance is to limit the exposure of marijuana to children and families. Since it is a city ordinance, only the Sierra Vista Police Department will be enforcing the ordinance.
State law only prohibits smoking in public places and does not prohibit consuming other marijuana products in public places. The city ordinance will prohibit any type of consumption on city property. In addition, displaying marijuana or marijuana products will be prohibited on city property. Again this is to limit the exposure to others, especially minors. SVPD will enforce this like any other city ordinance and charge individuals with violating the city ordinance when there is probable cause of a violation.
MD: This mainly applies within city jurisdictions. Per this law, a person can possess their legally allocated marijuana in public, they can’t smoke it in public. Unless a county ordinance is passed, my office will apply the law as written.
H/R: Talk about any additional training that officers have received since the passage of Proposition 207.
AT: Officers have received information and briefings regarding the change in state laws. In addition, officers will be receiving additional training regarding the new city ordinance that will go into effect 30 days after it was approved by the city council.
MD: My deputies receive bi-annual legal updates as part of their continuing education hours needed every year which includes all new laws passed. In addition, my senior leadership working with our County Attorney’s Office share legal updates to ensure compliance and application of new laws and cases.
It is important to know, it’s not whether I or my deputies agree or disagree with any law, as an office of the people, it’s most important we enforce it in a manner that supports the wording within the law and intent of the people.