With the legalization of medicinal marijuana already a reality in the Garden State, the use of pot to treat certain medical conditions opened up renewed concerns among law enforcement and traffic safety advocates. A great deal of the apprehension on the part of anti-marijuana advocates is the potential for an increase in cannabis-related traffic accidents. For now, the perceived threat is still somewhat low; however, with the increasing likelihood for eventual legalization of recreational marijuana, the worry in some sectors of the public, as well as our political leadership, is that weed will hit the mainstream sooner rather than later.
As a New Jersey DWI and drug DUI defense law firm, my legal staff understands how the potential future legalization of marijuana could have a serious impact on DUI enforcement. Never mind the possible benefits of bringing a much maligned illegal substance like pot to the same level as alcohol; many law enforcement experts suggest that the inherent dangers of “driving while high” could be just as bad or worse than DWI. That, of course, remains to be seen; in the meantime, however, possession of even a small amount of weed in a motor vehicle can result in some significant penalties.
New Jersey’s legal statutes currently specify that the use of marijuana (under most any circumstances) is grounds for arrest. Being impaired by this currently controlled dangerous substance (CDS) while operating a motor vehicle is most definitely a chargeable offense; yet, many drivers arrested for possession in a motor vehicle don’t realize that simply having pot on one’s person while driving a car in New Jersey could mean the loss of driving privileges, as well as stiff fines. State law (N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1) specifically prohibits any person from operating a motor vehicle while knowingly in possession of marijuana, it’s just that simple.
When it comes to driving under the influence, an individual who operates a car, truck or motorcycle while impaired by any habit-producing or narcotic substance can be charged with a violation of New Jersey law. The fines and punishments for drug DUI are similar to the penalties associated with alcohol-related driving offenses; this can mean hundreds of dollars in fines, as well as potential jail time and suspension of the person’s license. If there is anything that we can count on, there will likely be more and more marijuana-related DUIs all across the country as restrictions on its use are reduced or eliminated.
While legalization of pot here in the Garden State won’t make driving while high acceptable, or legal, it will probably require a legislative review of the state’s traffic laws regarding the substance and its use by the public in their daily lives. Just like the regulation of alcohol and the prohibitions against operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, the use of marijuana and the penalties for being under its influence when behind the wheel will be critical points that Trenton will need to address in the future.
In the meantime, we can expect to see scenarios like the one we ran across in the news earlier this month. According to Hackettstown police, a 20-year-old driver was arrested for DWI, as well as pot possession, after police stopped him for using his cellphone while driving on Rte 46 in Warren County. Based on the news article, the Allamuchy resident was stopped by officers around 9pm when they reportedly observed the motorist using his phone.
During the traffic stop, the officer in charge detected the odor of alcohol coming from the man’s breath. Further investigation revealed the driver to have a small amount of marijuana (less than 50g) on his person, as well as finding a glass pipe containing suspected marijuana residue in the vehicle itself. After being asked to exit the vehicle and perform a series of field sobriety tests, the driver was unable to successfully pass them, according to police.
The motorist was arrested and taken into custody. He was subsequently processed at Hackettstown police headquarters where he was charged with a number of offenses including DWI, pot possession (less than 50g), and operating a motor vehicle while using a cellphone.
Allamuchy man faces drug, DWI charges; NJHerald.com; March 04, 2014