NJ marijuana legalization: Police chiefs don’t want legal weed
app.com 24 September 2018
Family First Comment: From the frontline…
“I speak as an experienced law enforcement officer with over 30 years enforcing laws related to impaired driving. My community has experienced its share of horrific crashes, traffic congestion, snarl-ups, delays, as well as, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. So I feel appropriately qualified to discuss the issues and concerns related to impaired driving, and in this case “drugged driving,” and its effect upon the motoring and non-motoring public. “
As a member of the executive board for the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and the Chairman of the NJSACOP Working Group, I would like to share the concerns of our membership who feel the legalization of recreational marijuana will adversely impact the quality of life of our residents.
The Working Group is comprised of seasoned and learned chief executives of law enforcement agencies from around our state, whose purpose is to focus the discussion on the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey as it relates and affects public safety in our communities. One of the most salient concerns we have relates to the consequences of drugged driving.
I do not hold myself up as a clinical expert on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Rather, I speak as an experienced law enforcement officer with over 30 years enforcing laws related to impaired driving. My community has experienced its share of horrific crashes, traffic congestion, snarl-ups, delays, as well as, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. So I feel appropriately qualified to discuss the issues and concerns related to impaired driving, and in this case “drugged driving,” and its effect upon the motoring and non-motoring public.
I am not alone in this experience. New Jersey has some of the most heavily traveled and congested roadways in the United States. The collective efforts of the law enforcement community to thwart drunk driving have met with a great deal of success, as the incidents of drunk driving and related crashes have been relatively low and stable over the last decade or so. But, drugged driving is not the same as drunk driving. Further, our collective understanding of the impairments due to drugged driving is limited.
Marijuana is not a benign drug. Impairment due to drugged driving has certain comparable similarities to impairment due to drunk driving, but it’s the differences that will make the roadways less safe and the ability to enforce drugged driving laws much more difficult.
Alcohol is unique among impairing drugs in that there is a documented correlation between blood levels and levels of impairment. That doesn’t exist for other drugs and it has been shown to be non-existent for THC in marijuana. Currently it is not possible to identify a valid impairment standard for marijuana or any other drug equivalent to the .08 percent BAC limit for alcohol.
Exacerbating the problem is the matter of how to best create, implement and enforce the laws prohibiting impaired driving. This is particularly concerning in New Jersey, the most densely populated state, where the risk of catastrophic consequences related to a drugged driving incident is exponentially more probable.
The members of the Working Group have researched the issue in an effort to better understand how the legalization of recreational marijuana will affect our communities. Thus far that research validates our concerns and strengthens our collective resolve that the State of New Jersey should not legalize the use of recreational marijuana.
For example, the percentages of traffic deaths related to the use of recreational marijuana doubled in Washington State in the year retail marijuana sales were allowed. In Colorado marijuana is now involved in more than one of every five deaths on the road. These statistics highlight our concern and why it is necessary to wait until we have a better understanding how legalizing recreational marijuana will impact our state.
We feel that it is much better to postpone any decision until independent and comprehensive research has been completed using a better sampling of size and time. But, given the statistics that are available today it is clear and indisputable the use of recreational marijuana negatively impacts both the motoring, pedestrian and special needs community and that innocent people in states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized are at a greater risk of harm, injury and death due to the increased numbers of drugged drivers.
As previously noted, it has been a collective and successful effort from law enforcement, legislators, advocates and our community members making the superhighways, our heavily traveled arteries and each local roadway safer with motor vehicle crash rates due to drunk driving at low numbers. This is not the time to reverse that course. It is imperative we do not underestimate the adverse impact legalizing recreational marijuana will have on traffic safety within our communities.
John Zebrowski is chief of police in Sayreville and vice president of the N.J. State Association of Chiefs of Police.