Legalizing marijuana: How will law enforcement tackle impaired driving?

Local News

NEW YORK (WSYR-TV) — After years of debate and weeks of deliberation, New York State officials have reached a deal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults and the bill could be printed as early as Thursday.

One of the sticking points that’s delayed the bill in the past, and remains a concern today, is how law enforcement will determine whether a driver is impaired.

“There is no real, firm test that they can use to say, ‘you have this much THC in your system and because of that you are impaired driving,'” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “You can maybe be swabbed with your saliva to say that yes you have THC in your system, but it won’t tell you whether or not you’re impaired.”

It’s a concern shared by law enforcement across the board, including the Onondaga County District Attorney, Bill Fitzpatrick.

You can’t breathalyze someone who’s high, and there’s no way to tell how long THC has been in someone’s system. So, if you ask Fitzpatrick, it will be impossible to prosecute.

“A first-year law student could win that case on the defense, ‘well I legally smoked a joint a week ago,’ because THC will stay in your system for up to a month,” Fitzpatrick said.

If you look at the other states that legalized the drug, you’ll find an increase in accidents and deaths from impaired driving in all of them.

“The advocates keep saying this is a social justice issue. Well, tell that to the parents of the first kid that’s killed by a stoned driver, talk to those two people about social justice,” Fitzpatrick said.

There are talks about training drug recognition experts or using something called “oral fluid testing”. Fitzpatrick says that technology isn’t developed yet and it still wouldn’t be enough. So, right now, there’s no short-term solution.

“The immediate solution is leave the law alone,” Fitzpatrick said.

Peoples-Stokes said other states which have approved recreational marijuana generally take 18-24 months to put the regulatory pieces in place but she believes it may not take New York that long.

Peoples-Stokes is hopeful the bill can be voted on by this time next week, and the regulatory pieces could be implemented by June of this year.

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