The Reno Police Department presented to City Council this week an overview of the state of cannabis and crime in the Biggest Little City. Unsurprisingly, pot arrests are up. But not exactly for the reasons one might assume.
The availability of state-level legalized marijuana means that arrests for pot DUIs will naturally climb. Same with open consumption. But the availability of legal cannabis is only part of the story.
Tom Robinson, deputy chief of police, said that DUI arrests continue to rise, and cannabis consumption is contributing to that increase. In 2014, RPD showed 710 arrests, but in 2018, that number jumped to 1,033.
The city now has four DUI officers compared with only two before 2016. Officers are also better trained to recognize drug impairment.
“In 2016, we trained our entire department on … how to identify drug use in individuals without actually being a drug-recognition expert,” Robinson explained.
There are holes in RPD’s data, however. Officers first test impairment with breathalizers because of cost savings. Blood tests in the lab similarly end if just the legal limit of alcohol is determined — if alcohol is found to be a cause of impairment, the test stops.
That means that RPD can’t account for DUIs for both cannabis and alcohol because the alcohol test is faster and cheaper. Cannabis could also have been a factor, but alcohol alone is enough for a DUI charge.
The question: What would the arrest numbers be if both alcohol and cannabis were factors in the DUI charge?
The city of Henderson is researching this gap, Robinson told the council. “There may be more poly-intoxicant-use in drivers out there, so they began a study in 2017 where they tested for both alcohol and drugs in all their blood tests. They found that THC and alcohol were present in 46% of all their blood tests conducted.”
Robinson explained that marijuana and alcohol DUIs would total 262 arrests in 2018 if that 46% were applied to Reno. Instead, there were 149 cannabis-only DUIs in 2018.
“We may have a bigger issue than we’re aware of,” Robinson inferred.
In short, the prevalence of cannabis, better training, the cost of testing, and more DUI officers appear to explain the rise in these numbers.
More Notable Numbers
Arrests and citations for pot possession have dropped. That includes trafficking, giving weed to minors, and possession. More than 300 arrests and citations were documented by RPD in 2014. That number dropped to 49 in 2018.
“The decline is kind of obvious,” Robison said. Drug investigations that involve marijuana are now about half of what they were in 2014.
Robinson said he expects those numbers to drop a bit and then level off.
Public pot consumption arrests and citations have jumped, however. From zero in 2016, 128 people were cited for public consumption in 2018. It’s a $600 citation.
Robinson said that there were no trends in reports or calls for service around dispensaries. This is contrary to a pattern that arose in Colorado after marijuana was legalized there. Dispensaries were getting burgled and robbed.
“We’ve been very blessed in Reno,” Robinson explained. “All the members of our industry are very professional. They really want to be legitimate. They’re doing everything they can on their end.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.