STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Borough police officers received specialized training to detect when a motorist is driving under the influence of opioids, but what about marijuana?
So far, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized weed for recreational use, and experts are predicting that New Jersey, which is connected to Staten Island by three bridges, will be the 10th state.
Additionally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering what legalizing recreational marijuana would mean for New York State; he proposed funding an advisory panel in his 2018 budget plan and the state Health Department released a 75-page report listing the pros and cons of legalization.
As a result of the influx of legal marijuana — and the existing marijuana black market — law enforcement is looking for way to detect driver impairment.
“People who are high on opioids, our officers can recognize that… marijuana is a little more challenging,” NYPD Borough Commander Kenneth Corey told the Advance.
“There is no standard, or effective way to measure how high you are… the law hasn’t in that area caught up,” he added.
States like California have begun field-testing a marijuana breathalyzer, which, unlike fluid tests that detect marijuana weeks after it has been smoked, detects whether a person has smoked within the last two hours, which is considered to be the peak impairment timeframe.
COULD STATEN ISLAND GET A BREATHALYZER?
An NYPD spokesperson said the NYPD is not currently using breathalyzers to detect marijuana impairment in motorists.
The spokesperson did not respond when asked if the department is considering using a breathalyzer to detect marijuana impairment in the future.
Louisa Ashford, marketing manager at Hound Labs, the company that created the device being field tested in California and other states,said the company is unable to disclose what police departments it is working with.
The state Department of Health’s (DOH) report states that there is currently no roadside breathalyzer for roadside testing.
“While a breathalyzer for THC may be in development, there is currently no technology for determining impairment. Law enforcement expressed concern about launching a legal program hoping that technology will catch up,” the report stated.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on how a weed breathalyzer would assist in prosecution for driving under the influence.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an everyday smoker or an occasional smoker, levels of THC – or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive property of cannabis – in breath are the same, though frequent smokers will have a baseline of THC in their breath, testing shows.
For this reason, some devices have a baseline so measurements will not trigger a positive result.
THC is still detectable in breath even if a user has consumed an edible, however, it takes approximately one hour because the THC must first pass through the gut and liver. Some reports state that THC in breath after consuming edibles lasts longer than smoking.
“A study comparing motor vehicle-related fatalities in Washington and Colorado to eight similar states found that three years after marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle fatality rates were not statistically different from those in similar states without regulated marijuana,” the report said.
However, there has been an increased number of crashes reported, according to a pair of national studies released earlier this year.
Research presented to Congress in July by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed participants who used marijuana drove slower, followed farther behind cars in front of them and took fewer risks than when they were sober, according to the study.