Keeping high drivers off roads an inexact science

  • Petaluma Police Officer Mike Capitelli, one of the city's drug recognition experts, arrests Angel Castellone on suspicion of driving under the influence in Petaluma, Calif., on April 5, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

There's a number nobody wants to exceed when it comes to drunken driving: 0.08.

Registered on a Breathalyzer, 0.08 means your blood-alcohol content has crossed a legal threshold and you can be convicted of DUI, regardless of how you are driving.

But for marijuana, the line between legal and illegal is hazier.

There is no legal limit in California that defines marijuana intoxication, even though officials say the drug has become nearly as common as alcohol in drivers and presents an increasing safety risk on the road.

A recent crash in Santa Rosa underscored these concerns. In March, a man suspected of being high on marijuana and driving while texting slammed into a car halted in traffic on Highway 12, killing two women.

As more states consider legalizing marijuana and the drug's presence increases, a debate is growing over the best way to prevent stoned driving.

"Marijuana is so prevalent, and it's so easy to get a medical marijuana card, that a huge number of people are using it," said Petaluma Police Officer Matthew "Cap" Capitelli, who is trained to recognize drivers who have been using marijuana or other drugs.

"You stop people and there's a tone of insolence, like, 'Yeah, I've been smoking, but I have my medical marijuana card so I can smoke and drive.' That's not OK for anyone to do," he said.

On a recent Saturday night, Capitelli clocked a man driving 39 mph in a 25-mph zone on Petaluma Boulevard North. Speed is one indicator of intoxication, Capitelli said.

He flipped on his flashing lights and a young driver pulled over. After talking with the man for a moment and shining a flashlight in his face, Capitelli suspected the man was under the influence of drugs and asked him to get out of his truck.

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