“There’s no real roadside test”: Vermont’s Marijuana Law      

On Monday, February 14, 2018, the Barre Middle School principal, Michael Dreiblatt, was driving more than 100 miles away from Barre. It was the middle of the school day.

Dreiblatt was arrested and charged for driving under the influence of marijuana. “The initial reason for the stop was a vehicle inspection violation,” the Times Argus reported, “but police said Dreiblatt displayed signs of impairment that prompted them to conclude he was under the influence of drugs.”

Since Dreiblatt’s arrest, Vermont passed the law of recreational use of marijuana. This now no longer incriminates a citizen for the possession of marijuana. The new law allows Vermonters over 21 to grow their own marijuana (two mature plants and four immature plants per housing unit).

There has been tension within the community about this law passing, with some grey areas that have yet to be discussed. One, in particular, that has been brought up more than others: What happens if you are pulled over and suspected to be under the influence of marijuana?

Two local law enforcement officers– Kevin Moulton, a sergeant for the Montpelier Police Department, and Justin Pickel, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)– are both experienced in determining what substance a driver is under.  

“The new law has its ups and downs,” Pickel says. “And as with any law, it will take some time to work out the good and the bad, and may take several amendments to make it operate smoothly.”

Moulton said that when police suspect someone is impaired, the first step is a field sobriety test for alcohol. He says that if the person hasn’t been drinking that he can call for a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).  

Once a DRE, like Justin Pickel, is called, the evaluation is done in a controlled environment, conducted by the DRE. It is held in one of two respective areas, the local police department or the local hospital if the arrestee was taken due to injuries or other medical needs.

Once the police officer and the DRE are in the room, the area is required to be set up in a specific way to accommodate the 12 step evaluation procedure. The 12 step process is followed every time they need to evaluate a person to determine what drug(s) the person may have consumed.

The process is twelve (12) steps to include:    

1. Breath alcohol test                                             

2. The interview of the arresting officer

3. Preliminary examination

4. Examination of the eyes

5. Divided attention tests

6. Examination of vital signs

7. Dark room examinations

8. Examination of muscle tone

9. Examination for injection sites

10. Subject statements and other observations

11. Opinion of evaluator

12. Toxicological examination

Following the 12 step process, the arrestee is asked to provide them with a blood sample. Generally, if they don’t consent for the blood sample, the officer will apply for a warrant requesting for one.  

If the DRE and the Arresting Officer both agree that the arrestee is under the influence of marijuana, they typically issue a citation for an appearance in court on a later date depending on the severity of the crime. But if the arrestee is under the age of 21, the ticket is sent to a diversion program.

Although, another issue arises when an officer has conducted a traffic stop and the smell of Marijuana either burnt or processed had been detected. Officer Moulton, used to be apart of the K-9 unit and his dog was trained to detect marijuana. Before the law passed, he used the dog to detect the substance and then conducted a search if the dog smelled marijuana.

Since the law passing, he can no longer use his dog to obtain access to the vehicle, because the possession of marijuana is legal. Moulton is concerned that people will use this for their own good and use the smell of marijuana as a blanket to traffic heavier, more addictive drugs.

The new law, in Moulton’s opinion, “has opened a whole pandora’s box.”