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Police look to keep roads safe as recreational marijuana sales start tomorrow in RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Five licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Rhode Island are set to begin selling recreational cannabis on Thursday.

Back in May, Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in Rhode Island but delayed the sale of the product until Dec. 1.

With the new law going into effect, state and local police have been preparing for the possibility of more impaired drivers, and say they are ready to do everything they can to keep the roads safe.

Rhode Island State Police Cpl. L.J. Fiorenzano told 12 News any police officer is trained to detect if someone is under the influence.

“We have what is known as drug recognition experts we have 10 members of the team on the state police, and statewide there are about 70 from the municipal departments as well,” he explained.

Drivers will be asked to step out of their car if an officer thinks they are impaired or under the influence and then have them consent to a standard field sobriety test.

“The first part of the test is called the horizontal gaze and stigmas test so you might not see their eyes jerk back and forth if somebody is under the influence of marijuana,” Fiorenzano said. “The next test is called the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg stand test and they will show signs of impairment if they are under the influence of marijuana.”

Trying to determine if someone is under the influence of something other than alcohol presents a challenge for officers.

Fiorenzano said they have a preliminary breath test that will be used with the consent of the driver if it seems like they are under the influence of alcohol, but there currently isn’t a device to detect if someone is under the influence of marijuana.

“If they take them into custody and think they are under the influence of marijuana then they call in the drug recognition expert to the barracks or the police station,” Fiorenzano said. “We won’t come to the scene but we go back to the barracks and we conduct an evaluation on the person as long as they consent to it.”

“We check their pulse, we check their blood pressure, we measure their pupil size, we have a conversation with them, we interview the arresting officer we check for any injection marks, their temperature might be a little elevated depending upon what they are under the influence of, so then as drug recognition experts we make the determination of what they are under the influence of,” he continued.

The Rhode Island Cannabis Act allows a maximum of 33 stores to open statewide. Those future retailers will eventually be selected by a yet-to-be-formed panel called the Cannabis Control Commission.

Only adults 21 or older will be able to purchase the drug.

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