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updated: 5/8/2013 4:06 PM

Police groups question marijuana test

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Leading Illinois law enforcement organizations stepped up their opposition Wednesday to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, focusing on motorist safeguards they say are too lax to prevent traffic deaths.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association oppose House-approved legislation headed for Senate committee consideration, saying the bill incorrectly states that federally approved field-sobriety tests are adequate to check for driving under the influence of cannabis. They want blood and urine tests used in cases where marijuana use is suspected.

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Field sobriety tests work for alcohol, but not pot, and legalizing medical use of marijuana would jeopardize Illinois' enviable record of reduced traffic deaths, they said in a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, state police and transportation officials, and the Senate sponsor of the measure.

The letter was hand-delivered to Quinn on Tuesday but The Associated Press was given a copy of it in advance of its public release Wednesday.

"Illinois is a leader in traffic safety. We're recognized in all the states as the leader and this just does not bode well for our success," Chiefs of Police executive director John Kennedy said. "I can see highway deaths going up because of it."

The medical marijuana measure won House approval 61-57 last month. It's intended to help people with specific illnesses, diseases and conditions receive pain relief without side effects rampant with some traditional medication.

It requires anyone who obtains a permit to use medical marijuana to submit to a field sobriety test any time police pull them over.

The legislation states that "standardized field sobriety tests" approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can detect cannabis use, but "this is not a statement of fact," the letter to Quinn states.

Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said motorists driving under the influence of marijuana can be prosecuted in the same manner as those using more impairing pain medications. Medical marijuana users will be highlighted on driver's records available to police, he said, indicating they give consent to a field test.

"Police would have more latitude to require a field sobriety test for medical cannabis patients," Riffle said.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the Democratic governor had not yet read the letter but said, "We're open-minded on this."

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