With marijuana now officially legal for recreational use by adults in New Jersey and dispensaries open across the state, law enforcement officers will likely encounter even more people driving under the influence of weed. As in every other state where it’s legal for medical and/or recreational use, driving while impaired by it is prohibited.
Determining whether someone has it in their system and how much, however, isn’t as straightforward as testing for alcohol. There’s no Breathalyzer-type test that effectively measures how much a person has in their system. A breath test can only prove recent use.
New Jersey’s DRE program is the subject of a New Jersey Supreme Court case
New Jersey, like a number of other states, does have law enforcement officers who are designated as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). They’re specially trained to determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
Does a DRE’s determination that someone is driving under the influence scientifically valid enough to uphold a DUI charge – let alone a conviction? That’s a question in a case that’s been taken to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The case was brought by the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD).
There’s no doubt that THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can significantly affect a person’s reaction time, coordination and other skills needed to drive safely. However, what level of THC should be deemed illegal to get behind the wheel? It’s nothing like measuring someone’s blood alcohol level.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office supports the DRE program as “an effective tool in addressing drug-related impaired driving.” However, some experts say there are better systems. For example, one scientist created an app called DRUID that gives people tests to perform on a phone. However, that too has its skeptics.
Arrests can be based on other factors
It remains to be seen whether the case submitted to the state’s high court moves forward. Absent the kind of definitive measure of impairment we have for alcohol, law enforcement officers and prosecutors can still base their arrests and prosecutions on behaviors like reckless driving.
Whether you’re facing a DUI/DWI charge or a reckless driving charge, it’s important to recognize that the consequences to your life can be serious. That’s why it’s wise to seek legal guidance to protect your rights and effectively present your case.