Law enforcement leaders in WNY warn of dangers of marijuana legalization

Local News

Local law enforcement agencies, including Livingston County Sheriff Thomas Dougherty, spoke out Thursday morning against plans to legalize marijuana.

Sheriff Dougherty says many questions remain when it comes to marijuana legalization in New York that could result in unintended consequences to public safety.

“You in the media will be covering fatal crashes and waiting for a report to come back and say ‘yes, there was marijuana in the system,'” said Sheriff Dougherty.

The sheriff says Colorado is the best study for the impact of marijuana legalization — and he says the results aren’t good.

“Nearly 70 percent of marijuana users admit to driving after smoking marijuana in Colorado,” the sheriff says, citing a survey. “Their traffic deaths have doubled.”

According to a Denver Post report, the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes, who also tested positive for marijuana, more than doubled between 2013 (when the drug was legalized) and 2016 — and, due to lapses in testing, that number could be even higher.

However, critics point out that marijuana can remain in your system for some time after consumption and a positive test doesn’t necessarily indicate the driver was high at the time of the crash.

A 2017 study by the American Public Health Association found that states that have legalized marijuana did not see a significant increase in traffic deaths compared to other states.

But, Sheriff Dougherty says questions remain on how departments will be able to test for marijuana, what is an acceptable level of marijuana in your system and how departments will be able to train officers to recognize and test for impairment — that will be able to stand up in court cases against offenders.

“Drug recognition experts (DREs) are very highly trained, they are very highly skilled, we’re sending them to Florida to get the final certification through the state,” the sheriff explains. “I don’t know many agencies that afford to have a full force of DREs… How are we supposed to fund these DREs?”

State leaders are considering legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in New York after a study by the health department that found the benefits of legalization outweigh the negatives.

Speaking in December, Governor Cuomo said New York has little choice in the matter as nearby states move towards marijuana legalization.

The governor said, “It is legal in Massachusetts. It’s going to be legal in New Jersey. So, it’s not really ‘is marijuana going to be legalized?’ It is going to be legalized… For New York to be in-between Massachusetts and New Jersey, and say ‘We don’t believe it should be legal…’ It is legal. You’ll just force people to drive to Massachusetts or New Jersey and come back to this state and use it in this state.”

The marijuana proposal is expected to be part of the state’s budget, which is due by April 1. Governor Cuomo says that counties and large cities will have the ability to opt-out of legalization.

Medical marijuana is already legally available in New York.

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