“Stop thinking about rolling joints. You’ve got to start thinking about vaping, extracts and oils,” said Craig Amos, a state-certified drug recognition expert.
Law enforcement is denied access to a Pennsylvania Department of Health database of patients and caregivers certified for medical marijuana, said Craig Amos, a state-certified drug recognition expert with the Pennsylvania DUI Association.
“This is a huge disconnect,” Amos told more than 80 law enforcement officers gathered Monday inside the Bucks County Public Safety Training Center in Doylestown Township.
Representatives from nearly every police agency in Bucks gathered for the daylong conference on the rise of cannabis products and growing confusion on how to police pot.
Among the many issues, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana act, which became effective May 18, 2016, instructed the state Department of Health to create a database of approved marijuana users. But, state lawmakers have not shared that list with law enforcement because it could complicate a certified cannabis user’s ability to purchase firearms.
As a federal agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms doesn’t recognize Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana laws, and when purchasing firearms, applicants are asked whether they are using illicit drugs.
“If we had access (to the marijuana user database), then we’d have state troopers showing up at someone’s door, arresting them for a felony violation because they lied on a form to purchase a firearm,” Amos said.
Throughout the training, Amos stressed the research showing cannabis is valid treatment for several medical conditions. It’s also leading to more drivers who are using drugs while driving, and a drug culture and paraphernalia that’s changing so fast, many officers might not recognize it during a traffic stop.
“Stop thinking about rolling joints,” he added. “That kid who is tokin’ on 15 percent THC, he’s not going to smell like grapes or blueberry. You’ve got to start thinking about vaping, extracts and oils.”
Manufacturers use butane to make extracts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive stimulant in pot, and butane burning within enclosed spaces has led to explosions.
“When you see three cans of butane in the back of that car, that’s not for cigarette lighters,” said Amos. “That’s for making extracts.”
Cannabis concentrates are also easily substituted for nicotine in electronic cigarettes and vaporizers. However, unlike nicotine, cannabis oils placed in an e-cigarette or vape pen will be thicker, he said. “Take that vape pen and turn it over, if it’s thick then you might want it tested,” Amos said.
Attending the conference, Newtown Township Police Lt. Richard A. Matthews said his department was waiting on court battles over medical marijuana arrests.
“We just don’t know where all of this is going, and we don’t have the case law yet,” said Matthews. “Just wait until the judges begin to issue rulings on how we handle it. It’s an evolving law, and we’re just stumbling through it.”
Meanwhile, the top priority must be getting intoxicated drivers off the road, said Amos. The number one reason marijuana users are stopped by police is for speeding, he said.
“They’re not out there driving slow. They’re going 75 (mph) when they’re supposed by going 35 (mph). When they’re using, they think they’re better drivers.”
New Britain Township Patrolman Robert Burkhardt left the conference confused and frustrated, he said.
“There’s just so many questions, and we’re not getting many answers.”