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Parks officials cite more holiday drivers for marijuana offenses than for alcohol

SHARE Parks officials cite more holiday drivers for marijuana offenses than for alcohol

Boaters enjoy the sun and water at Deer Creek Reservoir near Heber City on Sunday, June 21, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Increased checkpoints and patrols at some of Utah’s state parks and reservoirs over the holiday weekend to crack down on intoxicated boaters and motorists resulted in five citations issued for DUI.

But officers issued five times as many tickets for marijuana possession.

Ty Hunter, Utah State Parks boating program coordinator, said he was “very, very surprised” by the “humongous uptick” in marijuana cases this year.

Thirty-five officers from five agencies — Division of Wildlife Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Weber County Sheriff’s Office and Ogden Police Department — participated during the Fourth of July weekend in Operation Dry Water 2020.

Their goal was to decrease the number of DUIs on both land and water, according to a statement from Utah State Parks.

“We want people to boat responsibly. Part of that is not to drink and operate a boat or motor vehicle at all,” Hunter said.

From Friday through Sunday, officers made contact with more than 3,050 people at Deer Creek Reservoir, Jordanelle Reservoir, Causey Reservoir and Fred Hayes State Park at Starvation. More than 700 vehicles were stopped and 110 boats were inspected.

The result, according to the state, was 156 citations being issued, including:

  • 25 for marijuana possession
  • 26 for possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 12 for having an open container of alcohol
  • 6 for being a minor in possession of alcohol
  • 5 for DUI

Of the five DUI citations, four were issued to boaters and one was to a motorist at a checkpoint who had just pulled his boat out of the water, Hunter, said.

Last year during the same operation, nine citations were issued for DUI and 16 for marijuana possession. While Hunter said he’s pleased that the number of DUI arrests are down, he’s very concerned about the increase in marijuana usage at Utah’s reservoirs, which he said is becoming more prevalent than alcohol.

“It’s pretty sad to see,” he said.

“Boating on Utah’s waters is a great way to have fun and relax with friends and family,” Hunter said. But mixing alcohol or marijuana and boating “can be a recipe for disaster.”

He added, “Impaired boating is no different than driving a car. It decreases your situational awareness, reflexes and decision-making skills. It puts those in your boat and those around you at risk.”

A total of 34 field sobriety tests were administered over the weekend, resulting in five vehicles being impounded, according to state parks officials.

Fourteen people were also cited for life jacket violations and one for a firearms violation.

Hunter said there have already been several drownings this year and a lot of “close calls,” which is why the state is really pushing recreationists to use life jackets.