Recreational Marijuana Legalized in NY, Police Have Concerns About Safe Driving

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Honggang New York State legalized recreational marijuana use on April 1, 2021, becoming the fifteenth state in the United States to do so. Businesses and law enforcement are now scrambling to adapt to the change. New policies and enforcement are needed, and in some cases, new equipment may be required. One of the major concerns that plague law enforcement is the issue of impaired driving. In the past, it was easy to determine how much alcohol in a person’s bloodstream led to impaired driving. However, it can be complicated to determine this after an individual consumes marijuana and gets behind the wheel.

Marijuana Use Can Still Lead to Impaired Driving

Recreational marijuana use is legal, but it’s not legal to use inside a vehicle. Using marijuana can still impair judgment and decision-making skills, which can cause a major issue. Even without any type of substance use, 86% of drivers already think that it’s safe to drive at least 10 mph over the speed limit on the highway and do so regularly. This is a major issue with professional drivers, as large trucks going 65 mph can take a distance of up to two football fields to come to a complete stop. Any impairment can complicate driving even more and may lead to additional judgment issues.

Adults Can Now Smoke Marijuana Wherever Tobacco Is Allowed

Adults 21 and older in New York can now smoke marijuana anywhere that they can smoke tobacco, except inside a vehicle. Smoking marijuana is not permitted near schools, at workplaces, or inside vehicles. However, there’s no legislation to prevent using marijuana and then going to work, for example, or using marijuana on one’s own property. Police have concerns that this will dramatically increase the number of driving under the influence (DUI) cases, as citizens use marijuana and then go about their daily activities, including driving.

Driving Under the Influence Is Still Illegal

DUI charges begin at 0.08% blood alcohol content for adults 21 and over in states like Maryland and New York. However, marijuana impairment is more difficult to recognize accurately, and enforcement is still behind the times. In addition, the state desperately needs more Drug Recognition Experts to handle the influx of DUI cases that they’re currently dealing with. These experts are specifically trained to perform roadside assessments and testify in court about the impairment level, and the state is currently shorthanded.

A police officer can use the smell of burning cannabis as reasonable cause to suspect that a person is under the influence, but there’s currently no roadside test like there is for alcohol. In addition, officers can only search clearly visible parts of the car on this suspicion, so they can’t easily access the trunk or glove compartment to confirm their suspicions, for example. In addition, traces of marijuana can stay in a person’s system for hours after consumption, so this makes determining the level of impairment quite difficult. New tests are being developed that will test saliva for this evidence, but they are not currently available or in use.

This law was passed to allow for small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption and to reduce the number of individuals who were incarcerated for crimes related to marijuana. However, it’s also causing concern for police in New York in regard to road safety and potential impairment. As the situation develops, new testing and new legislation will likely be put into place to bridge the gap. In the meantime, however, enforcing DUI law has become more complicated, as police officers struggle to determine levels of impairment due to marijuana.