Lab for Cops: Finding a Way to Measure Cannabis Levels

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One of the biggest questions about cannabis legalization has been "will police be able to tell if a driver is high?"

Currently, there’s no way to measure it like there is with alcohol.

This month, the UConn Transportation Safety Research Center put that to the test, hosting a unique experiment where law enforcement could see how well they could detect impairment.

It’s the kind of experiment officers trained in this kind of work crave -- because it’s so hard to get a way to practice in a controlled setting.

UConn developed the curriculum, but because cannabis remains illegal federally, a third party is doing the research on all this.

The UConn Transportation Research Safety Center hosted a “wet lab” with six people who consumed alcohol, a “green lab” that had six people who consumed cannabis, plus six people who consumed both. All of them then got field sobriety tests.

Carson Fitzner

Executive Director Eric Jackson shared some of the biggest takeaways.

“There's nothing like observing somebody under the influence to see exactly how they react, how their eyes react, how their body reacts, and getting a feel for what level did they previously consume, and trying to understand that timeline of when they consumed," Jackson said.

The volunteers were supervised the entire day by 18 officers who are specially trained drug recognition experts.

Cannabis volunteers smoked or vaped cannabis twice during the eight-hour day.

Alcohol-only volunteers were provided with alcohol at regular intervals throughout the day.

The volunteers had assessments by officers twice, once before lunch and once after lunch.

Carson Fitzner

Officers also got to test some emerging technologies in impaired driving detection that are experimental and have not been approved for use in Connecticut.

Jackson said the $22,000 in funding for this research came from a grant given to the Connecticut Department of Transportation by the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration and

The UConn Transportation Safety Research Center said it hopes to host more events like this to get more officers this training.

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