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New Jersey’s Supreme Court has declared the testimony of drug recognition experts reliable enough to be used as evidence, though they limited its use over concerns about such experts’ processes.
Wednesday’s decision is a partial defeat for the state Office of the Public Defender, which argued the case, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which was among several groups that filed supporting briefs. It comes three months after a court-appointed special master found such testimony was reliable enough to act as evidence.
The New Jersey Supreme Court case that could decide how cannabis impairment is — or isn’t — measured by police is nearing a conclusion with multiple ramifications.
In question is the protocol and use of specially trained officers known as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), who perform marijuana sobriety tests. The case, State v. Olenowski, involves the state Office of the Public Defender challenging the scientific validity of how police officers detect drug impairment, including on drivers suspected to be under the influence of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
But as with so many things in New Jersey, there was a catch.
After a series of compromises, the law also would direct a portion of cannabis state revenue to local police departments to train more officers to identify impaired drivers — known as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) — whose methods were being challenged for being scientifically unreliable.
Even as the decades-old methods were being challenged in court, the Legislature committed more funding to the programs anyway, a move seen by many as a way to win the support of law enforcement and additional legislators.
Is weed decriminalized in NJ? More to come
For over one month, legislators and activists have sparred — often within their own groups — over what comes next for legal weed.
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act would essentially set the rules and framework for regulations for a legal cannabis industry.
What’s in (and not in) A-21/S-21?
“[The bill] has been introduced as the most progressive cannabis legislation in the country yet it falls short of substantive social equity provisions seen in other states,” said Jessica Gonzalez, General Counsel for Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), in an email to Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
None of the four states have yet legalized recreational marijuana, but on Thursday, officials agreed to a set of guidelines to follow when considering legalization. They include:
Q: How will law enforcement (in a legal weed world) conduct sobriety tests on drivers? (Joseph B.)
Great question, Joseph. This is one of the major issues that's kept some legislators from backing legal weed.
The short answer is: There is no sobriety test — at least not the kind of test you're probably thinking of, like an alcohol breath test.
A bill currently pending in the New Jersey Assembly, , would establish a per se standard for marijuana in DWI cases. This bill, if enacted, would probably present both benefits and drawbacks for New Jersey DWI defendants.
Dr David Nathan, Founder and Board President of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, and a guest on my show, commented on the idea that traffic fatalities would rise of marijuana were legalized. "The issue is it's not just about cannabis but about the use of all drugs with people on the roads, we've gotta find better ways to keep people on the roads safe", said Nathan.
As Nathan noted, "The question of drugged driving is one that I regard as being one of the most serious ones, because it's on that we don't have a simple answer to."