For now, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4). But that could change if the state finally follows through on the idea of legalizing the drug. While that may seem like it would free up police officers to focus on other crimes, some experts say it would only shift some of those resources toward a different kind of marijuana-related enforcement.
If New Jersey follows Colorado (and seven other states) in allowing recreational use of marijuana, it could see a huge spike in drug DWI. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area released a report last year that found pot-related traffic deaths in Colorado jumped 48 percent since the drug was legalized in 2013.
Driving under the influence of drugs – or DUID – is illegal under New Jersey’s intoxicated driving law (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50). But enforcing DUID comes with very different challenges than enforcing alcohol-related DWIs.
Unlike alcohol, traces of marijuana linger in the body for days after the high is gone. While there are tests that can detect if someone has smoked pot, it is difficult (and expensive) to determine whether he/she took a hit two hours ago versus two weeks ago. Alternatively, NJ law enforcement could lean more heavily on Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), a special group of officers trained to spot drug impairment. Unfortunately, despite the state having the second-most number of DREs in the nation, there are still not enough to handle the kind of uptick in drug DWI seen in Colorado.
Either way, prosecuting those who are charged with drug DWI could prove challenging. Most police precincts aren’t going to be able to shell out for the kind of expert toxicology needed to pin a drug DWI. Furthermore, unlike breathalyzers DRE analyses are largely subjective. This opens the door for defense attorneys to more easily refute such evidence or get it tossed altogether. As acquittals rack up, drivers could become more brazen in their willingness to drive while high, further exacerbating the problem.
Without a viable, objective way to test for marijuana intoxication, lawmakers could be undermining one key benefit of decriminalizing the drug. Until that happens, though, getting caught with marijuana in New Jersey still carries serious penalties. A first offense for possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4)) can mean facing up to 18 months in prison, plus a fine of up to $15,000. You could also lose your driver’s license and be forced to enroll in a drug rehabilitation program at your own expense.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of marijuana or for any other criminal offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people in similar situations. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation about your case.