Crime & Justice

LAPD's main worry about legal pot is stoned drivers

Different types of marijuana on display at Harborside marijuana dispensary in Oakland.
Different types of marijuana on display at Harborside marijuana dispensary in Oakland.
Mathew Sumner/AP

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With the advent of the legal recreational marijuana business, it's "a new day in law enforcement" in California, a senior LAPD official said Tuesday. He said officers will pay particular attention to drivers who are impaired by the drug and anyone supplying it to a minor.

"This is an emerging area of operation for us," said LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore, adding that the department's gang and narcotics division will lead enforcement of the new law, which prohibits the use of marijuana in public places and by anyone under 21.

"We will act aggressively to enforce these regulations," Moore said.

He noted dispensaries that sold medical marijuana in the past have been "sources of significant criminal activity," but added that the department isn’t shifting a lot of resources to the effort and understands times have changed.

"We accept the law, it's the public's will," said Moore. "This is the evolution of community standards."

Echoing police leaders across the state, he said his biggest concern is drivers who are impaired after taking cannabis.

"We are worried," said Moore, adding some people may now try pot but be unaware of its impact.

"Recognize it is an intoxicant. It has a lasting effect. And it can be delayed in its onset," he said. "You can have a consumable and you may not feel it for thirty minutes ... even two hours."

Consumables typically refer to food that contain marijuana, like cookies.

There is no standard for how much THC can be in a person's body to drive safely – like the .08 blood level for alcohol. A blood test won't work because marijuana is metabolized differently from alcohol, and scientists have yet to come up with a reliable alternative measure of impairment. While officers may swab a driver's cheek for the drug, they will rely heavily on field sobriety tests similar to those conducted on suspected drunk drivers.

It's OK to carry up to 1 oz. of marijuana in your car, but it must be in a container and locked in the trunk, said Moore. Asked if LAPD officers will now be allowed to use pot while off duty, he said no.

Recreational marijuana dispensaries opened in several California cities on Monday, including in West Hollywood and Santa Ana. The city of Los Angeles will begin accepting applications on Wednesday from any of 153 medical marijuana stores interested in selling recreational pot, said Cat Packer, executive director of L.A.'s Department of Cannabis Regulation. The city will probably issue its first temporary permit next Monday, she said.