Former Elgin chief now in Colorado says drivers smoking legal pot is 'difficult for enforcement'
A former Elgin police chief who now leads a police department in Colorado said legalized recreational marijuana brings a variety of challenges, from driving enforcement to hiring practices.
Jeff Swoboda has been police chief for about a year in Fort Collins, a town with an estimated 175,000 residents and 10 retail marijuana shops, 10 retail marijuana cultivation centers and four manufacturing facilities of retail marijuana products, plus one pending. There are also medical marijuana centers.
"It's very prevalent," Swoboda said. "You smell it routinely."
There are many forms of the drug, from oils to edibles, so being high doesn't necessary come with the telltale smell, he said. The department has 225 officers, including two certified drug recognition experts who make about two arrests per week for driving under the influence of marijuana, he said.
"It's difficult for enforcement because there is no simple test," Swoboda said. "It's based on how they drive."
Arrests can be time-consuming because officers take drivers to the hospital for a blood test, he said. People can refuse the test but they face suspension of their driver's license. Forced blood tests occur on the fourth DUI charge, a felony, he said. Blood test results often are challenged in court, because marijuana can stay in the system for days or weeks, Swoboda said.
"It's definitely messy," he said.
The Fort Collins Police Department has a policy that all job applicants must submit to a urine test and cannot have smoked marijuana for at least a year, Swoboda said. Marijuana use seems to have become more acceptable, particularly among youths, so it isn't always easy to find such applicants, he said.
One recent job applicant said he smoked "occasionally," then clarified that he meant about five times a week, Swoboda said. "That's a different mentality," he said.
Legalized marijuana also brought a "black market" problem to Fort Collins, because people grow marijuana, often in vacant houses, to sell and ship pot across state lines, he said.
Still, beyond impaired driving, alcohol causes more problems than marijuana, Swoboda said. The city is home to Colorado State University, which has about 34,000 students. Alcohol can cause people to be belligerent and get into fights, but marijuana doesn't seem to do that, he said.
If marijuana weren't legal, police would have one less thing to worry about, Swoboda said. "It's one less intoxicant that people use and, unfortunately, get behind the wheel of a car."