New Jersey Marijuana Legalization: Symposium To Focus On Driving Drugged, Hurdles To Enforcement

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan

The momentum to make recreational marijuana legal in New Jersey is growing but the social costs are still a question mark.

“The public looks at this stuff and says, ‘It’s more freedom. It’s more tax revenue. Let’s do it.’ But it’s more complex than that,” said Chris Halsor, a former Colorado prosecutor and an expert on drugged driving.

Halsor will speak Tuesday morning at a symposium on marijuana in Atlantic City hosted by Law Enforcement Against Drugs. The Allentown-based group works to deter drug use and drug-related crime as well as bullying and school violence.

Drugged driving is a lead topic at Tuesday’s symposium.

Driving and marijuana is a contentious issue that is anything but clear.

Getting a conviction for someone driving under the influence of marijuana in New Jersey is not easy, absent direct evidence or a confession. There are legal hurdles police face to getting a urine or blood sample. And there is no clear test to determine whether a driver is impaired. Those tests are frequently challenged in court.

Critics of marijuana legalization in New Jersey have focused on driving.

“New Jersey’s roadways are extremely congested and we don’t have a foolproof weed sobriety test,” Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, a staunch opponent of legalized marijuana, said last year. “A mad dash to legalization, without taking the time to examine the consequences, is a recipe for disaster.”

But the research focusing on crashes in states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use are also unclear.

“Though there is evidence from simulator and on-road studies that marijuana can degrade some aspects of driving performance, researchers haven’t been able to definitively connect marijuana use with more frequent real-world crashes,” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Haldor’s discussion will focus on how to prosecute those caught driving while under the influence of marijuana. For a video on marijuana’s image problem, scroll up.

Also speaking Tuesday will be Rich Garza, agency director for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Garza will speak about his state’s experience with legalizing marijuana.

Under a proposed law, New Jerseyans would be permitted to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use, and previous convictions for such possession would be eligible for expungement.

Further, the drug would be taxed at the point of sale, generating $300 million in tax revenue, according to one estimate.

Currently, New Jersey has legalized medical marijuana – which is distributed by only six dispensaries that handle more than 15,000 patients. Gov. Phil Murphy has Murphy signed an executive order that could lead to an expanded medical marijuana program.

The conference, the 21st Century Drug and Violence Prevention Training Conference and Marijuana Symposium, will be in its third day Tuesday.

On Monday, school violence and the Trump administration’s national drug strategy were key topics. U.S. Associate Deputy Attorney General Steve Cook, who is directing the president’s Task Force for Crime Reduction and Public Safety, spoke. Cook has been a vocal critic of criminal justice reforms particularly easing stiff penalties for drug crimes.

The Asbury Park Press will be providing coverage Tuesday.