ALBANY — The emerging marijuana legalization measure at the statehouse is bound to cause headaches for law enforcement because there is no consistent way for defining driving while high on cannabis, a prosecutors’ group said Monday.
Defects in the law prohibiting driving while impaired will be exacerbated by the legalization of both smokable cannabis products and so-called edibles containing the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, according to the District Attorneys Association of New York State.
NEW AND ODORLESS
“There will soon be many new and odorless ways of ingesting marijuana into your body that will cause observable impairment, but because of the requirement to name the substance, prosecutors will not be able to hold someone accountable who drives under the influence,” said Sandra Doorley, the group’s
president and the Monroe County district attorney.
While the legislation keeps driving while impaired by drugs a misdemeanor, Doorley urged lawmakers to give prosecutors the “statutory tools” to prove in courtrooms that the offense took place.
The measure has been promoted as a way to address an imbalance in the criminal justice system that has resulted in a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic New Yorkers being arrested for marijuana offenses.
But the way the legislation is written, there is now concern that those who can afford expensive “boutique” products such as edibles “may be able to skirt prosecution,” while individuals who get the cheaper varieties of flower cannabis will be more apt to face charges for driving offenses, Doorley said.
Another feature of the compromise legislation is that it would allow New Yorkers to cultivate as many as three mature plants and three immature plants simultaneously. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had favored keeping cultivation of marijuana a crime in his proposal but lawmakers ended up rallying behind their own legislation.
But they did embrace one aspect of Cuomo’s proposal — one that would tax marijuana products based on the potency of their THC content.
Kaelan Castetter, Director of Policy Analysis for the Castetter Cannabis Group and CEO of Empire Standard (a hemp/cannabinoid product developer, manufacturer and distributor), said the tax scheme is problematic because THC levels can vary significantly from bud to bud on the same plant.
Castetter said there is also concern the THC tax could encourage some consumers to get their pot on the black market.
But while some producers opposed allowing people to grow their own pot plants, Castetter said the move will end up leading consumers to becoming more informed about marijuana and motivate them to sample a variety of products from the soon-to-be emerging industry.
Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said the measure will create opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“Cannabis legalization will jumpstart our state’s economic recovery and serve as a real investment in a forward-looking culture that puts New York cannabis consumers, small business owners, farmers and cultivators first,” Gandelman said
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com