A New Jersey government official wants to keep track of your entire relationship with cannabis in an effort to tackle stoned driving, the New Jersey Monitor reports. Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D) wants to create a division tasked with compiling data, such as information on any arrests made for driving under the influence where cannabis is present, through use or possession, in addition to other marijuana-related arrests, dismissals, convictions, cannabis seized, and even adjudications of cannabis charges.
The reality of the dangers of driving with cannabis in one’s system is hotly debated. U.S. lawmakers are scurrying to find a way to solve the issue, whether they’re getting people stoned (and even giving them munchies) to research high driving or working on tech to scan your eyeballs, they really, really want to find a way to identify (and prosecute) anyone driving under the influence of cannabis. Never mind the fact that weed legalization in Canada is not linked to an increase in car crashes.
Speight was inspired to tackle the problem in her home state after visiting Colorado, the first state to have legal recreational weed, in the summer of 2022 and observing how the state deals with motorists driving under the influence of cannabis. “I don’t know if they have the correct guidance on how to charge without overstepping,” Speight said. Colorado has an office under the state’s criminal justice division that monitors and logs any cannabis offenses, yet New Jersey has no similar centralized database. “When I saw what they were doing over there, I started thinking about how that would be good for our state,” she said. “I like the fact that they have a certain division handling and keeping track of these cases.”
So, New Jersey residents, you can get mad at Colorado for inspiring your state to step up its vigor regarding cannabis-related driving arrests. Speight aims to create the division to help the police know under what circumstances they can arrest someone. This means the state government will be collecting more information about its citizens, which will be presented annually to the governor and Legislature, and include any recommendations for improvements.
The bill, introduced earlier this month (sponsored by Sen. Vin Gopal (D) in the Senate), would additionally create a “public awareness campaign” about cannabis and driving. It’s currently referred to both chambers’ law and public safety committees.
In New Jersey, recreational cannabis is legal for adults 21 and over. You can possess up to six ounces. If you are caught with more than that, the cops can’t arrest you but can issue a summons. Additionally, they can’t search your car without a warrant just because they think they smell weed smoke. If a cop does overreach and investigate cannabis use for anyone under 21, they can be charged with deprivation of civil rights for knowingly violating the cannabis law’s requirements. They then face up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
As a result, Speight says that she’s “troubled” by incidents where New Jersey police don’t know what to do. Many officers take a more hands-off approach to avoid getting in trouble due to the current law, and the proposed data collection-based division aims to tackle this. While the existing rules sound favorable to anyone who enjoys pot, it’s confusing police, who, without a current, accurate cannabis version of the breathalyzer, have a hard time figuring out if someone is driving stoned or not.
“All of this gets complicated to me, but I don’t think it should be ignored. It should be addressed,” Speight adds, noting she hopes to work with both cannabis advocates and law enforcement on the bill.