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With Marijuana Legal, Police And Businesses Try To Keep Roads Safe

Police are still investigating the degree to which marijuana was a factor in a car crash around 8 a.m. Monday that killed a pedestrian.

But witness statements and the initial investigation indicate 27-year-old Jacob McLeod Walters was smoking seconds before the crash.

Police say Walters hit a 46-year-old Elizabeth Irma Kemble. She was crossing Burnside Street in Gresham when she was fatally hit. She was in a crosswalk and on her way to the MAX light rail.

Investigators say she landed in the street, 35 feet from the point of impact.

John Rasmussen of Gresham Police Department said speed and vehicle condition weren’t to blame.

Rasmussen said the big question is: “What was the level of impairment and was it to a point that it would have been a factor in this crash?"

Rasmussen said officers have dealt with people who drive and use pot before. But now recreational pot is legal, they’re expecting many more cases.

One of the problems he said, is that unlike alcohol, there’s no breath test for pot. Anyone stopped who appears to be under the influence will have to undergo a field sobriety test.

“Marijuana is a depressant and would cause us to look at things like reaction time, pupil dilation, response to light,” Rassmussen said.

People might also be asked to stand on one leg or walk in a straight line. Rasmussen said police could also get a blood or urine sample.

“We can apply for search warrants for peoples’ blood. And that often happens in fatal crashes,” he said.

Police advise people who’re going to use marijuana to rely on a designated driver. Unlike alcohol, pot comes in many different strengths and forms, which makes it hard to know how much is too much.

“You know with alcohol, they’ve figured out over decades that one shot of alcohol, 8 ounces of wine and one beer are relatively equivalent and your body metabolizes that at the rate of one drink an hour, but that depends upon your food consumption, your weight or your age, stuff like that," said Rasmussen. "We don’t have that for marijuana.”

Todd Bratton has been running a couple of Washington cannabis stores in Longview and Kelso over the last year.

He said he advises customers not to drive under the influence.

Washington has a limit of 5-nanograms-per-milliliter of blood for active THC.

“I just really don’t know what five nanograms really means for an average user," he said.

"It’s just a tricky situation right now. We suggest that people don’t open their products until they get home," Bratton said. "After they leave our shops. All of our products are sealed. We just tell them to wait until they get home.”

Washington also just passed open container laws on pot. Bratton said it’s a privilege to posses pot without fear of prosecution, so users need to respect that and not abuse it.

But, he said, marijuana affects people differently than alcohol.

“There’s no valid way to compare it to alcohol whatsoever. It may make you aloof or relaxed or slightly dreamy, which may add to impairment," Bratton said. "But actually there hasn’t really been anything that I’ve seen in all the research I’ve studied that shows that marijuana even comes close to having the impact on driving that alcohol does.”

<p>Jacob McLeod Walters</p>

Jacob McLeod Walters

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He specializes in health care, business, politics, law and public safety.