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Sheriffs: Legal marijuana is a danger to public safety

February 07, 2019 05:58 PM

NEW YORK ( WHEC) -- Sheriffs and police chiefs from across New York state came together Thursday in opposition of Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana.

More than 30 law enforcers from Western New York gathered at the Livingston County Sheriff's Office, saying the issue isn't a debate about whether someone should be able to smoke a joint in the privacy of their own home.

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It's a concern about those who will drive a car after doing so. 

"This is not a philosophical debate as to whether it's right or wrong to legalize marijuana, we're making a plea for public safety.  

States that have legalized marijuana have seen dramatic increases in traffic fatalities," says Patrick Phelan, the chief of police in the Town of Greece. 

Data from the Colorado Department of Transportation shows the number of fatalities involving positive tests for marijuana has nearly doubled since weed became legal there in 2014.  

Colorado officers can conduct roadside sobriety checks when they suspect someone is under the influence of marijuana.

If a suspect fails the test, he or she can be mandated to take a blood test.

Colorado law specifies that drivers with five nanograms of active THC in a milliliter of their blood can be prosecuted for DUI.  

It is unclear at this point, what the legal active limit of THC will be here in New York and whether roadside officers will be able to conduct those tests or if specially trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) will have to conduct them.  

Right now, if you're suspected of driving under the influence of drugs in New York, the officer who pulled over your car has to call a DRE.

"It takes expertise, that's why they call them a drug recognition expert--it takes a lot of money and a lot of education," says Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter.

It's only after a DRE determines a suspect is likely under the influence that a court order is typically granted for a blood test.  

The problem?

On average, each county only has a handful of DREs so if that's how the system is going to operate, law enforcers aren't sure they can keep up with keeping other drivers safe on the road.

"I don't know many agencies that can afford to have a full force of DREs," says Livingston County Sheriff Tom Dougherty.

The bottom line for law enforcement is there are still too many unknowns.

"It's moving at warp speed. We get questions asked all the time and we don't have the answers to those questions... yet it could be law at a moment's notice," Sheriff Baxter says.

In a statement, a spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo says, "The governor's office engaged in significant community outreach during the fall including 17 listening sessions and dozens of meetings with stakeholders and local law enforcement. We look forward to continued engagement as we refine our proposal to ensure public safety while also addressing the harm done to communities as a result of disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws."

The governor's office says the new law specifically identifies DREs as an expense that can be funded by the tax revenue generated from the legal sale of marijuana and the law establishes an aggressive DUI policy with low tolerance and high penalties for intoxicated driving.

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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