In 2009, state law enforcement launched Operation Dry Water, a coordinated effort to stop people from boating under the influence (BUI). Every year, cops set up sobriety checkpoints along major waterways to ensure that boaters are operating safely. On weekends and holidays, there is a huge increase of boating traffic on local rivers and lakes, and with that comes an increase in alcohol-related boating accidents.
“Boating on Utah’s waters is a great way to have fun and relax with friends and family; however mixing alcohol and boating can be a recipe for disaster,” said Ty Hunter, Utah state parks boating program coordinator, according to ABC4. “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.”
July 4 fell on a Saturday this year, and cops redoubled their BUI enforcement efforts. Over the course of the weekend, officers set up additional checkpoints across Northern Utah’s traditionally packed waterways. Five state law enforcement agencies stopped a total of 130 boats and over 700 motor vehicles over the weekend and issued citations for open containers, drug possession, and unsafe boating violations.
Although the program is mainly targeted at drunk boaters, police ended up busting five times as many people for weed than for booze. Cops issued 25 citations for marijuana possession, but only busted 5 people for alcohol-related BUIs. A total of 26 drug paraphernalia citations were also issued, but only 12 open container violations were recorded. Officers conducted 34 field sobriety tests this weekend, and ended up arresting six people and impounding 5 boats for alcohol-related BUI violations.
Fortunately, it seems like police issued citations for all of the cannabis-related offenses, rather than hauling people off to jail on a holiday. And the vast majority of all citations issued over the weekend were for standard boating violations, like failing to have an appropriate number of life jackets for all passengers.
Adult-use cannabis is still prohibited in Utah, but the state’s first medical cannabis dispensary just opened its doors in March. The state’s MMJ program, which was legalized via ballot vote in 2018, has had a bumpy, slow start. Thankfully, it’s gradually expanded despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This past May, state health officials authorized the state’s three existing dispensaries to sell medical pot via drive-thru and home delivery to help facilitate social distancing measures.