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Law Enforcement Reactions To Marijuana Legalization

In an address by the New Jersey State Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, he acknowledged that the legalization of marijuana in the State of New Jersey would pose some significant issues for law enforcement officials. In particular, the Attorney General speculated that there would be an increase in marijuana related DWIs. To address this concern, the State of New Jersey would be providing specialized “drug recognition” training to an additional 80 more police officers. These officers would be added to the list of approximately 400 police officers whom have already been trained as “drug recognition evaluators” or “DREs.” New Jersey already has the second greatest number of trained DREs – only to be outdone by California.

Other law enforcement officials in New Jersey have also voiced concern about pending marijuana legalization. The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP) released an official statement opposing the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. In the release, the Association noted its greatest concern to be the impact on drivers and possibility of an increase in intoxicated driving (DWI). Nonetheless, a spokesman for the Association acknowledged that current scientific data is contradictory concerning whether recreational marijuana use poses an increased danger to the community from drivers who use the drug. In fact, some studies have shown that drivers under the influence of marijuana tend to be more cautious than a sober driver.

While it is clear that the psychoactive components of marijuana (THC and hydroxy-THC) certainly do have an effect on the human brain, it remains unclear as to what extent these components affect driving skills. There is no reliable method of testing a driver’s breath for THC like a breathalyzer test for alcohol concentration in a driver’s blood. Blood tests can reveal the presence of THC in nanograms. But such blood test results do not necessarily show a driver was intoxicated. A published marijuana study has revealed that THC can be present in a chronic marijuana user’s blood for up to 7 days following the last time of marijuana consumption.

Urine tests are even less useful in determining marijuana intoxication. Used as a final step in the DRE’s drug evaluation, the urine sample is tested in New Jersey for the presence of carboxy-THC. Carboxy-THC is a non-psychoactive metabolite of marijuana. In other words, carboxy-THC is the waste product of THC after it has been metabolized in the body. It cannot reliably reveal when a person consumed marijuana or if a driver was under the influence of marijuana when the urine sample was provided. The presence of carboxy-THC only shows that marijuana was ingested.

As one can see, there is no fool proof method for detecting driving under the influence of marijuana. Furthermore, if someone is charged with a marijuana related DWI, it is imperative that a lawyer specializing in municipal court matters such as this be contacted immediately to discuss defense options. Even law enforcement officials acknowledge that a marijuana DWI charge is more difficult to prove than a run-of-the-mill alcohol DWI.