There are 54 drug recognition experts dispersed across Connecticut, and the number of these specially trained police officers could dramatically increase next year in response to the state's legalization of recreational marijuana. There is no chemical-based, roadside test for marijuana as there is with alcohol and no tube through which a driver can blow. So, police officers have to rely on training to determine if a driver is under the influence, and drivers must comply with the officer's request. "This used to be voluntary," said Kevin Geraci, a South Windsor police officer who is among those training DREs on behalf of the state Department of Transportation. "A subject arrested for impaired driving where the officer suspected drugs, they didn't have to do this evaluation, it was strictly voluntary, with no repercussions for them refusing to do it. Now with the new legislation, they're required to take it and there could be penalties for refusing." Current law does not allow the state to suspend the license of drug-impaired drivers who do not have an elevated blood-alcohol level. But the new legislation, which takes effect in April 2022, allows a driver's license to be suspended "based on evidence of behavioral impairment," according to an Office of Legislative Research analysis. And if a driver refuses to be evaluated by a DRE, the officer's testimony can be used and admitted as evidence in a criminal court. Because there is no chemical-based field test for marijuana, the testimony of those DREs is admissible as evidence in court, as it has been since Connecticut began training DREs in 2011. DRE training is the highest level of drug-related education an officer can receive, according to Geraci. "It's a pretty intensive training course," he said. "We kind of tout that it's probably one of the more difficult courses in law enforcement to take." DREs are located in each of the state's counties, including in Greenwich, Norwalk, Clinton, East Haven, Torrington, Shelton, Newtown, Wallingford, Wolcott, New Milford and several Connecticut State Police Troops. The state Department of Motor Vehicles employs a DRE, as does the University of Connecticut for its Storrs campus. Agencies without DRE-trained officers will request one from a neighboring town as needed. "In the long run, we'd like to do a call-out program where DREs can be requested to respond," Geraci said. "If an agency needs a DRE, they would go to a website and request a DRE and then all the DREs would get a page saying, 'Hey, you know, Avon is looking for a DRE. Does anybody want it?' 'Sure.' And then you would go out and respond." DREs are not the officers pulling over drivers. All police officers are trained to administer a standard field sobriety test, which only covers alcohol. They will shine a light back and forth and check the driver's eyes, ask the person to walk and turn and to stand on one leg. "Those are the three tests that patrol officers will utilize for all impaired drivers," Geraci said. The next step is Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, known by its acronym, ARIDE. That's a two-day class designed to teach officers to determine if a driver is under the influence of a drug. "They're not looking specifically for one or two different things. It's a totality of everything," Geraci said. "Your vehicle operation, their personal contact. Are they dropping documents? Are they fumbling? Do they have bloodshot eyes? Do they smell like alcohol or marijuana or another substance? Is there a residue all over their mouth because they just inhaled gold spray paint?" The goal, according to Robert Klin, who runs the DRE program for the state Department of Transportation, is to have as many ARIDE-trained officers as possible. "The goal is to get everybody coming out of the academy ARIDE training," he said. But when there is reason to question the arresting officer's determination - if, for example, a suspect's blood-alcohol level is lower at the police station than it was in the field - the department may call in a DRE. "DREs are called post-arrest. They're there to confirm the presence of substances," Klin said. "They're not hunting people. They're not driving around looking for people." The other 12 steps Neither DRE nor ARIDE training is specific to marijuana, but both levels of training include ways to tell if a driver is stoned. "If you kind of look at some of the things that marijuana does, it does mess with people's time and distance perception," Geraci said. Some of that is how a person is driving. Maybe they're following too close, or forgot which way they were going. Once a suspect is back at the police station, there are even more tests. "For instance, marijuana causes eyelid tremors. You close your eyes, you tilt your head back, your eyelids flutter rapidly, not normal twitching," Geraci said. "You don't know that that's happening at all, whatsoever." Another test asks suspects to close their eyes and estimate when 30 seconds have passed. "Most people in their head will be like, 'Oh, I got this, I can count to 30,'" Geraci said. "We've had people go for a minute, a minute and a half. Or some people that count five seconds and think 30 seconds have passed. In their head they think they did fine, but in reality they didn't." There are, in fact, 12 steps a DRE uses to determine if a suspect is actually under the influence of a drug. That includes multiple checks on the dilation of a suspect's pupils in several different light levels, interviews with both the arresting officer and the suspect and toxicology reports. When asked if he could confidently tell if a suspect was under the influence of marijuana, Geraci said, "I trust the program and the training that I have." "Obviously, you'd have to go through the entire process to make a determination," he said. "We don't just look at somebody and say, 'Hey, that person is high or that person is drunk. We go through our entire process." The training to be a DRE consists of two weeks of intensive classroom instruction and a week in the field. That fieldwork includes real people, suspected of being inebriated, usually in an out-of-state jail such as Maricopa County in Arizona. "There's a limit to those field certification sites," Klin said. "A handful in the country." According to Geraci, suspects used during training are tested after they've been arrested, similar to the process after an officer is certified. "These people are coming straight off the streets, in some cases, to us, and that's when they're usually impaired," Geraci said. "We ask, 'Anybody who wants to help us out,' and they're usually pretty good about it, because it gets them out of central population. They're in a small room with us, not with 30 or 40 other people. So there are usually plenty of people that will stand up and raise their hand and say, 'Yeah, I'll volunteer to help out.'" DRE training costs about $5,000 per student, covered by grants from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the state DOT. "I'm a forensic guy, I do computer forensics, that's my full-time job. I went to all these forensic schools, and trust me, that was extremely hard," Geraci said. "This was pretty close to some of the computer forensics stuff that I've done." It took Geraci eight full hours to take the DRE test, and he said some people have taken as long as 12 hours. "Just the sheer amount of knowledge of information that you're getting, and, memorization that's required to do this, it certainly, testing-wise, was probably one of the more difficult tests that I've had to take," he said. More DREs on the way When Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law a bill legalizing recreational use of cannabis, included was a provision to add DREs to Connecticut's rolls. According to that law, local police agencies have until Jan. 1, 2022 to request more DRE training. The Police Officer Standards and Training Council will then make a recommendation by July 2022 on how many more DREs should be trained. Geraci said the program is so intense he prefers to train volunteers, not officers appointed by their commanding officer. "We would certainly rather have people who want to do this come into the program than agencies saying, 'You're going to this training," he said. "Because it's not just a one-and-done thing." Officers are required to get recertified every two years, and there are administrative tasks involved in making legal testimony stand up in court. "You have to do a lot of data management," he said. "You have to keep track of all your emails, you have to keep them listed for attorneys, because one thing that they're going to look for is the amount of emails and stuff in your paperwork being in order."