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ND’s driving under influence of drug laws questioned

BISMARCK -- One local woman is looking to challenge the North Dakota laws in place for driving under the influence of drugs. Jan Kuhn, director of Sacajawea Substance Abuse Counseling in Dickinson, stood before law enforcement officials involved ...

BISMARCK -- One local woman is looking to challenge the North Dakota laws in place for driving under the influence of drugs.

Jan Kuhn, director of Sacajawea Substance Abuse Counseling in Dickinson, stood before law enforcement officials involved with the North Dakota Association of Counties on Thursday to ask members to sign a petition to amend the current driving under the influence of drug laws.

Kuhn said the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs are far less than alcohol because how vaguely the law is written. The North Dakota Century Code only states a person cannot drive under the influence of any drug or substances to a degree which renders that person incapable of safely driving; or if they’re under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drugs or substances that make them incapable of driving.

Kuhn is proposing a bill to make .05 nanograms the legal limit for marijuana and other drugs to better enforce driving under the influence of drugs laws. Kuhn said this number is the same threshold currently used in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

“Basically we are brainstorming on what it would cost for the departments,” Kuhn said. “A lot of things have to be put in place, but we are starting the conversation.”

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Dickinson Police Sgt. Nick Gates said the current cost for a drug recognition expert training is around $6,000, which is paid by the department and are held throughout the country.

“There’s not enough places to train drug recognition experts and the requirements are pretty stringent,” Kuhn said. “So you know, departments need grants to send their people to training. “

Gates, a drug recognition expert, knows how stringent that training is. He needed 100 hours of drug training, two weeks of in-classroom training and one week of on-site training to achieve the distinction.

During his training, he went to California and had to test individuals under the influence of drugs to be able to properly identify them.

Gates is in support of having more trained drug recognition experts in the state. He said with this bill, it would also be easier to identify those with drug addiction and legally get them the help that they need.

“You would be able to track people that have a problem,” he said. “If nobody forces their hand on getting clean, they won’t get clean.”

However, Dickinson Police Capt. David Wilkie said he is concerned about how much this bill would cost law enforcement departments.

“This would have to be financially affordable for a department,” he said.

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Wilkie said it would also mean having more staff unavailable to complete these specified trainings.

He’s also concerned with the costs for testing. Currently, the Dickinson Police Department sends its urine samples to a national toxicology lab in California for testing.

“If you do 150 DUIs a year and you are going to start charging $85 a test to do all of those, it is going to significantly impact the budget of a department,” he said.

Those suspected of driving under the influence of drugs in North Dakota are currently urine tested, though Kuhn said she hopes the state will adopt saliva testing like in Colorado.

“In Colorado right now, they are doing a pilot program using hand-held saliva rapid instruments so they can get accurate readings on the nanogram levels instantly,” she said.

Her hope is the tool would be made available to every drug recognition expertofficer in the state.

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, noted there are many more steps that must be taken before Kuhn’s proposal can be passed legislatively.

“Our law enforcement is busy and they are doing their best to protect our community,” he said. “We have to make sure that if we do something like this that we give them the resources to implement it, because otherwise it would not be fair to local law enforcement for the Legislature to go and write some sweeping legislation without a mechanism for them to implement it and make sure they have the resources to do it well.”

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Kuhn said she hopes the association will give their answer on the petition in September after they have had time to discuss the issue and their concerns in depth.

In the meantime, she said, “I’m going to continue pushing legislators on moving forward.”

Kuhn said she hopes to see this bill passed sooner rather than later.

“I’d like no less than two years and if anything would happen in the Legislature about legalizing marijuana in the state of North Dakota, then I would absolutely say than, ‘Before you legalize it marijuana, you would have to have DUID laws on the book,’” she said.

Related Topics: CRIME
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