BOSTON, MASS. — One of the many debates swirling around New Jersey’s stalled effort to legalize recreational marijuana is how to treat a possible uptick in drivers who are operating their vehicles under the influence of marijuana.
The Colorado experiment remains controversial, but traffic fatalities in which there was a positive test for marijuana have close to doubled since the Rocky Mountain State ended the prohibition of recreational legalization in 2014. The challenge for Colorado and the other eight states who’ve legalized pot for recreational us is determining precisely how to police “high” driving when marijuana’s effects are often harder to detect, at least uniformly.
A new ruling out of Massachusetts’s highest state court may prove instructive.
On Monday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided that Bay State police can arrest drivers suspected of driving high based solely on their observations. “We acknowledge that it is often difficult to detect marijuana impairment, because the effects of marijuana consumption ‘vary greatly amongst individuals,’” the high court wrote.
There is no current technology to test urine or blood by the side of a highway.
Some New Jersey communities utilize so-called “drug recognition experts” at the moment: police officers specially trained to identify drug impairment in motorists. The DRE program nevertheless remains extremely controversial among advocates and attorneys since, again, there is no universally accepted way to ascertain marijuana impairment.
The Massachusetts court ruling could expand the ability of non-DRE officers in that state to effect arrests.
The current penalties in New Jersey for driving under the influence of drugs in New Jersey are stiff: first time offenders face a suspension of their driving privileges of anywhere from 7 months to 1 year in addition to up to 30 days in jail, mandatory classes, the possible instillation of an ignition interlock device, and thousands of dollars in cumulative fines and surcharges. The penalties increase from there: a third or subsequent offense translates to a 10 year suspension and up to six months in jail.
New Jersey’s own push to legalize recreational weed stalled before Christmas as Governor Phil Murphy and legislative Democrats continue to haggle over the sales tax rate attached to prospective sales at approved merchant establishments. In the rush to achieve hoped-for revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars annually, critics say lawmakers haven’t given enough thought to the fine points — like how to tackle marijuana DUIs — prior to a prospective adoption of a legalization schedule.