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Public can learn why marijuana DUIs are a “Buzz Kill”

Sierra College forum to focus on consequences
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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As a young college student Steve Schauer believed he couldn’t get in trouble for smoking marijuana. After being pulled over for not having his headlights on and getting booked for driving under the influence, he learned the hard way how wrong his perception was. “Like a typical young person in high school or college, I was involved in the party scene and drank and smoked marijuana and that quickly escalated to other drugs,” Schauer said. “I felt that marijuana was not as harmful as other drugs and not even as harmful as alcohol and I couldn’t get in trouble for smoking.” Schauer will be one panelist represented at Buzz Kill, a forum on marijuana DUIs, hosted at Sierra College March 27. It is aimed at heightening the awareness of students and the public about the risks of driving under the influence of marijuana. Sierra College officials say it’s a topic that has become even more relevant after a new study released on Feb. 23 revealed that one in five teen drivers report that they have driven under the influence of marijuana. The study, conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions, also found that 30 percent of teens surveyed don’t consider marijuana use a distraction to driving. The high cost of a marijuana DUI Despite his own experience, Schauer said he still encounters many people who aren’t aware of its consequences. Now, he runs a local drug treatment facility called Narcanon and serves on the Placer County Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Board. “I was just talking to someone today actually about getting a DUI for marijuana and they laughed because they didn’t think you could get one for that,” Schauer said. “Either way, it still is a mind-altering substance. In regard to driving, you are definitely not in a position to be reactive. A lot of the reason people smoke marijuana is to be able to mellow out. That affects your central nervous system in a way where you can’t react as quickly.” He said the financial consequences were the most devastating part of getting a DUI to him at the time. He spent thousands of dollars throughout the process and had his license suspended for a year. “It was every expensive and definitely, definitely not worth it,” Schauer said. “I think what needs to be done is to change the education or awareness of it. The same consequences are there for a marijuana DUI as an alcohol DUI.” Subhead: There has been one marijuana dui arrest made by the Auburn California Highway Patrol based, in Newcastle, since the start of 2012, said Officer David Martinez, spokesperson. Martinez said just like with alcohol, people under the influence of marijuana have impaired driving skills that make them a threat on the roads. “Alcohol and marijuana are depressants so their motor skills are going to be affected. They are going to be impaired,” Martinez said. He said it is also important for people to remember that they could be booked with an additional charge of possession of a controlled substance. Just like with alcohol-related stops, officers conduct field sobriety tests. “They were pulled over for a reason; either their driving pattern or we saw something that just didn’t look right. We will immediately smell the odor of marijuana. It is very unique and distinct,” Martinez said. “We are going to look at their eyes, their mannerism. Regardless of how much they smoke, if they fail those field sobriety tests we will make that determination that they are impaired.” Martinez said the highway patrol does not keep formal statistics on DUIs or distinguish between marijuana and alcohol DUIs in terms of records. In the event of an alcohol or drug related crash, the highway patrol does keep that information recorded in a database, he said. Focus groups reveal relaxed attitude from students Jon Hamblen, head of Sierra College security and residence life, is spearheading the forum. He said through his interactions with students he has realized how prevalent marijuana use is and how widespread the idea that driving under its influence doesn’t carry consequences. “We did some focus groups early on in the planning and asked some questions just related to marijuana use on campus,” Hamblen said. “The message was pretty loud and clear, ‘Yeah people do it. It’s not that big of a deal’ was the attitude from students.” But Hamblen said the reality is people under the influence of marijuana do cause accidents. To drive that point home, students will have the opportunity to hear testimonials from Schauer and a victim. The Placer County District Attorney’s Office will hold a mock marijuana DUI trial, while artists from the Auburn Hip Hop Congress will perform pieces about substance abuse. “We have a young artist who had some substance abuse issues and he uses music as a way to get through that,” said Natalie Pohley, an advisor to the group. “It’s going to be good because it will definitely draw attention to where the event is going on. People coming by will see this and say, ‘Oh this looks fun,’ and they will get a chance to gain awareness on the issue.” Hamblen said if the event raises awareness about the dangers of smoking marijuana and driving, it will have done its job. “If anything, it’s an awareness thing. If you’re not aware there is a problem, you don’t really take any steps to change it. Socially, and even criminally, the use of marijuana has been decriminalized. To make any efforts to attack the morality of it you are just going to get rebuffed,” Hamblen said. “The science is there. Your reaction times are impaired under the influence of marijuana.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News. _______________________________________________________ Teens on marijuana and driving: •1 in 5 teen drivers reports that they have driven under the influence of marijuana • 30 percent of teens surveyed don’t consider marijuana a driving distraction • 72 percent of teen passengers would ask the driver to refrain from getting behind the wheel after using marijuana Source: Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions _______________________________________________________ What: “Buzz Kill” A Forum on the Consequences of a Marijuana DUI When: March 27, 11 a.m. Cost: Free Where: Dietrich Theater, Sierra College, 5000 Rocklin Road, Rocklin Event Details: The purpose of this forum is to heighten the awareness and understanding in the community and amongst student populations the risks associated with marijuana use and the legal ramifications of driving under its influence. Performances by the Auburn Hip Hop Congress and a mock marijuana DUI trial by the Placer County District Attorney’s Office will also take place.